Another week, another weekly meeting.
In our weekly meetings, 6 of us would share updates with our companies.
I was running my agency and working on a new web platform that I was getting ready to launch.
As I shared my progress on my new project, someone called me out.
I wasn’t expecting it, but it came, and it left a dent.
As I was sharing designs, someone pointed out the dates the designs were made.
And, uh, the designs were from a year prior to when I shared this.
Immediately, one person questioned why I had waited over a year to launch this web tool.
At the time, I didn’t understand it, but perfectionism had control over me. It was just something I did, and I found some way to rationalize it. The challenge? The challenge happens when I wasn't consciously striving for perfectionism.
Let me say this again a different way...
Have the ability to be a perfectionist when needed. Do not let the perfectionist have you.
As a CEO, or founder, or entrepreneur, you will struggle with the Lean Startup methodology if you're a perfectionist.
SIDE NOTE: If you get annoyed when things don’t go “perfect,” or when things don’t go “right,” or if you find yourself mentally or verbally criticizing others, I am writing this so you can have a better impact for the people in your life.
Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment and blame. (Brené Brown)
My perfectionism used to control me.
I grew up behind a computer programming from the age of 9, in a world of code, of certainty, and I had complete control. The slightest error or missing character would break the code so it had to be perfect to run properly.
With my wedding videography business in my early teens, I would edit videos until the scene changed exactly when I wanted. I’d replay a scene dozens of times until it was perfect.
Whenever someone asked something of me, I always gave my best, because it’s all or nothing. My work is perfect or I’m not touching it.
I used to always "baby my tech gear" so it was without a scratch.
Either I will get on the dance floor and dance perfectly, or I won’t dance at all.
Unexamined patterns can become prisons.
My level of perfectionism was a prison.
It translated into things that didn’t really matter...
Like my obsessive desire to wash my hands so that I was always perfectly clean.
Like my perfect spiky hair that I gave priority to most of my early life.
Eventually, I grew tired of this way of living. I decided to examine my behavior.
What I learned has radically improved the way I experience life.
My desire for perfectionism was rooted in the feeling of inadequacy.
I associated the things I did with my identity. With who I was.
If I didn’t do things perfectly, then I wasn’t perfect.
If I built something full of errors or that was buggy, I wasn’t perfect.
I was a perfectionist because I was afraid of being identified with anything less than perfect.
Attaching identity, who we are, with what we do, is the foundation of shame (according to shame researcher, Brené Brown).
Shame is unhealthy. Guilt is healthy.
Shame is, “I am my accomplishments”.
Shame is, “I’m a failure.”
Guilt is, “I failed.”
Shame is focus on self. Guilt is a focus on behavior.
Shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging (Brené Brown).
And whatever we call it, I hope you can see the underlying belief that causes the issue here. (And if you can't yet, that's ok, this truth often runs at the subconscious level in old habits)
When I understood this, I was able to break glass ceilings.
The more I break glass ceilings, the more I find myself getting out of prisons that I don’t want to be in so I can write the story that I want for my life.
Now that I see the pen that I am writing the story of my life with, I can better use it to write the words.
But let’s go a step further... why did I do this? Where did this shame come from?
Shame can be genetic.
It can be unintentionally instilled by parents who haven’t examined such patterns. Parents who are doing the best they can with what they have with what they’ve been given.
It can also be instilled by society. Look around you. Perfect models in ads. Dressed up actors with make-up. Perfect news anchors. Polished social media updates.
Ok, but you’re an adult, you know this, right? How about the carrot you were taught to chase in school? You know, that A+ grade? Passing that test?
This “we are not enough” mentality is something that we instill in our own species. Intentionally or not, we are doing it to our young. Why?
Are you enough for the society you live in?
If you understand the objective perspective, you understand that we’re the sum of our connections. It’s no wonder why so many people struggle with this. We grow up in a modified world.
Ever heard of the imposter syndrome? It’s the unspoken feeling that people feel like an imposter. It’s the name given to cope with the deeper reason why we do what we do.
Ok, how about, “fake it until you make it?” We cover up this idea of being perfect and wrap it in a bow-tie with cute phrases.
How about, "practice makes perfect?" When we're a slave to perfection, this is the same thing as chasing an invisible carrot that is a lie.
Stop it. :)
Perfection is a man-made concept.
A story of how perfectionism limited me
I was with a friend, Arnold, and we went hiking in the morning and I spent the day working out of Santa Monica in Southern California.
He casually asked me if I wanted to meet up for dinner with some friends I hadn’t seen in years. “Sure,” I said.
On the way to dinner, I asked him to remind me of the names of the people who were there.
When I showed up at Chili's with Arnold, I saw everyone. Immediately, I told one friend, “Good to see you, Johnny.” He said something back to me, and I responded quickly, “I’m good, thanks.”
Within 5 minutes of socializing, I realized his name was not Johnny, it was Steven. I laughed in the group of 4 and said, “Steven, my bad, I totally called you Johnny.”
His response? Well, it was surprising.
He said, “Yeah, I know, I told you my name was Steven and you responded, "I’m good, thanks.”
Why am I telling you this?
When we are trying too hard to be perfect and “get it right,” we focus so much energy on being perfect that we're not fully experiencing the moment.
This can rob us of joy and the presence of those we love.
I can feel the energy of people who struggle with this because it has been a story of mine in the past.
Our perspective defines how we experience life. I don’t think anyone doesn’t want to fully experience their family and friends.
And let’s be candid. This truth about perfection can result in suicide if not understood.
But wait, let’s go deeper.
I believe that HX, the human experience, is about connection.
In this context, I believe that as humans, we’re wired for connection.
When we allow fear to take over (consciously or subconsciously), we become a slave to many forms of connection. This subconscious behavior controls our lives.
Oh, and guess what, fear is the root of anxiety.
Wait, let me connect some more dots for you... the imposter syndrome is rooted in fear. Fear that you are not as worthy as everyone else so you have to hide your accomplishments and the things you have done and any signs of “fakeness.” This disrespects what is.
Ok, different angle.
Perfectionism implies a struggle with acceptance. Instead of accepting that human beings are capable of mistakes, we fear it, and in that fear, we do everything we can to avoid making mistakes, in every decision.
Most of the time, this perspective is passed down to us, never examined, and we struggle with it over time.
When we examine this process, we can better craft the connections that we want to write for our story.
And I honor that fear is instinctively human. I am calling you to evolve beyond your animal instinct.
Powerful perspectives allow you to do this.
The cure to perfection
Perfection is the state of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects.
The cure to perfection is having the power to turn perfection on and off like a switch.
It’s about having the strength to control perfection instead of having perfection control you.
Life is imperfect.
Filled with flaws, defects, warts, pain, suffering, difficult moments, circumstances, and brokenness.
And also... joy, happiness, playfulness, peace, excitement, and more highs of life.
(Even then, the objective perspective will open your eyes about the above two thoughts.)
As an entrepreneur, you want to understand this because fear cripples innovation and invention. If we live in fear of being a failure, and if we attach our identity with what we do, we’re afraid to fail. An entrepreneur does not need that fear within themselves, or in their team.
The trick is in the acceptance of the real truth of the human condition.
When we don’t do this, we thrash through life, and we fight until the end or until we come to realize this truth (and surrender).
Have the ability to be perfect or imperfect, but don’t let perfection have you.
Specifically, don’t let perfection be your addiction.
An addiction is an uncontrollable habit. If you’ve experienced burnout, or have seen negative effects on your relationships, or health, due to perfectionist tendencies, I am speaking to you.
The path to examining this pattern
The more I experience, the deeper my conviction grows for this truth.
That is, the deeper my intensity of understanding grows.
When I examine a pattern, I am able to detach from it.
When I shine light on the dark areas of understanding in my life, I am able to see more clearly.
Instead of living in darkness, I am able to see the clouds that pass through the sky.
When I see a cloud moving through my mind, I am able to decide if I want to live under that cloud or if I want to find the sun.
When I have certain thoughts go through my mind, I am able to decide if I want that reality to be my story.
Do I need to be perfect in this moment, or is what I am doing enough?
Are the imperfections of my actions, enough?
Am I ok if my car isn’t spotless after washing it?
I believe we are all capable of this truth:
“I am enough.”
Let me say that again...
“You are enough.”
“Your life is enough.”
When I understand that my life is enough, I understand that the life that others lead is enough for them.
My father, Thaddeus, said it another way: “You cannot give to others what you have not already given or allowed yet for yourself.”
Oh, and for the record...
I don’t expect this to immediately click. It took me years to come to this conclusion.
Also, I don’t write for you. I write for legacy. I write for the third connection.
If I’m the first connection, and you’re the second, then your family, friends, and employees are the third.
This truth I am sharing is about those people. The third connection.
Why? Because what you don’t transcend, you transmit to those around you.
You might still be wondering, "How will this help me as an entrepreneur?”
It will support your legacy.
Legacy requires self, but it is not about self.
The problem with perfectionism is it steals self.
Because it’s not focused on self.
It’s focused on others.
This fear of being identified with anything less than perfect is about how others see you, not how you see yourself.
You will not live the legacy you want if you cannot learn how to truly see yourself.
Oh, and about my business project from the beginning...
My first business idea took over 2 years to build and then I killed it on launch.
The next project was built in 2 months.
The next project was built in 2 weeks.
The next project (minimum viable product, or MVP) was built in 2 days.
The ability to be imperfect is a muscle.
If you read anything here that was new or insightful to you, then to correct this pattern is more than an attitude or a mindset. It’s a proactive practice.
Refine the muscle.
Set a calendar reminder right now to read this 1 month from today.
Remind yourself at every red light that you need to stop trying to be perfect all the time.
Accept the rigid construct you've defined for yourself. And then let go of it.
Send out e-mails with an intentional typo from time to time.
Journal nightly on how you trusted that day to raise your awareness.
Set alarms to remind yourself to focus on trusting. You get what you focus on.
Find the self-compassion and self-acceptance to love yourself more.
Share raw stories with close friends about stories of imperfection.
Strengthen the imperfection muscle by allowing yourself to do things imperfectly.
Embrace your inner artist.
Create something that you know could be better and make peace with it.
Practice metacognition by observing your behaviors.
Think more objectively and weigh the risks rationally.
Refine your imperfection muscle.
PS. The answer: Perfect is imperfect.