What’s Perfectionism Got To Do With It?

Are you a perfectionist? I am. I used to take great pride in this title. Until one day when it dawned on me that perfectionism is a great stumbling block to success and a limiter to creative activity. Some would say I’m creative, many would say I’m entrepreneurial at heart. I would say I am both to a great extent, but I would also say that sometimes I just can’t get started unless I can see the big picture, I can plan to the end, I know how it will turn out. One of the reasons I’ve done very well in marketing is my ability to envision the goal, keep my eye on it through all kinds of business realities, and then be creative to get there. My perfectionism along the way has served my employers very well, but has made perhaps an enemy or two of colleagues. Other handles for perfectionists: control-freak, kill-joy, type A, boring, task-master, b*#!$. Ah well, I used to think, my intentions are always good, there is always a job well-done, and if there are co-worker relations that suffer for it, so be it. Of course, being older and wiser, I realize now my “perfect” blinders prevented me from seeing other business realities beyond just MY “job well done.” But that is the beauty of wisdom and age… we can look back and learn. I never thought I was perfect, so why on earth did I embrace perfectionism?

Life lessons of motherhood, part 1:
I obsess weekly over my lack of ability to keep my house tidy. In the earlier years of motherhood I tormented myself about how I, an obvious perfectionist, could not keep a clean house. It was a good friend who brought to my attention a quality I mentioned above… perfectionists sometimes can’t start unless they can see the end. And frankly, with three young children, myself and my husband in our house nearly all the time (being my husband works from home), the messes we make are constant and so is the cleaning. So, as a perfectionist, I can’t possibly see my way to completely succeeding at a clean house. I confess, sometimes I completely let it slide in favour of things I can accomplish… starting a new business for example seems way less daunting than my house most days, and more fun. I wish I could let it slide without perfectionist guilt. 90% of my thoughts and actions in a day are related to cleaning… either doing it, planning to do it, or lamenting not doing it.

There is no room for perfectionism in motherhood. While my husband (and I!!) may wish I was a better “housewife”, my children do not care. They do not care about any end result, they care about what value I am going to bring to their lives in the next 5 minutes… clothes to wear, food to eat, beverages to drink, toys to play with, time to read, getting them to dance class, taking them to school, painting their toenails, singing songs, dancing. I cannot see the end result of participating in these activities with my children. But it is obvious that being active in my life with my children, rather than watching them while I do the dishes (for the third time today), is going to accomplish the goal. What was the goal? Raise happy, well-adjusted, bright children who can function well and contribute to society when they are adults. Watching me be a perfectionist over my achilles heal of a housemess is not going to meet that goal.

Life lessons of a marketer, part 1:
I’ve never obsessed over marketing. I do believe motherhood and marketing come equally second nature to me. And for this reason, in spite of my perfectionist tendencies over things that really do not matter, I can quickly tap into my better common sense and instincts and “do the right thing.” In the case of good marketing, it often is just getting on with it! If you set a goal, keep your eye on the goal, and base all decisions in reflection of that goal, then you aren’t roadblocked by your own perfectionism. You don’t have to have all the answers, all the money, all the pieces, all the knowledge if you just have a reasonably calculated instinct that allows you to keep making daily decisions that move you closer to the goal.

The bottom line is that perfectionism gets in the way of getting things done sometimes. Good enough actually does mean GOOD enough. Striving for better can sometimes result in missing a deadline or a great opportunity. The only time when I think perfection is mandatory is with spelling and punctuation.

I’d guess most successful entrepreneurs are not perfectionists. They have drive and passion and thrive on finding creative ways to get things done fast, with the least cost. That’s far from a perfect world. What does perfectionism have to do with it? When it comes to business, and motherhood, not as much as I thought. So, try embracing imperfectionism and see how many great things you do today and what kind of good decisions you make!

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