We all have perfectionist tendencies. Doesn’t matter if you’ve written thousands of articles on Medium, or published twenty books. Perfectionism is a disease we all must fight.
Now you may say: sure Ryan, perfectionism is a problem for you. Not me. I publish and ship all kinds of stuff into the world. Perfectionism never holds me back.
Are you sure?
Do me a favor. Think about how many articles or manuscripts are sitting on your hard drive. What house projects are left undone in the name of busyness, health, or lack of funds? How about that next great idea, or relationship you’re hesitant to pursue?
What’s the culprit of all the things left undone in our lives? Yes, we ship a lot of work, and finish stuff. But what is underneath all these loose ends?
We can chalk up our inability to finish projects as busyness, money, or health. Not to say none of these are never a barrier. But underneath these abandoned manuscripts, unstained decks, and businesses living in our minds… Perfectionism.
Perfectionism is a tricky disease because it often hides under a smokescreen of fear.
We’ll say: I’m such a perfectionist, I just can’t seem to finish my book, article, or landscape the yard.
But what if I told you what lies underneath these comments isn’t perfectionism? Too easy. Perfectionism is a safe, common, and smokescreen word. Let’s call it by its correct name: fear.
Fear is a vulnerable word. One we replace with perfectionism or perfectionist because most people throw it around in casual conversation. Nobody wants to admit fear because fear suggests defeat and weakness.
Kids use the word all the time. But we're grown adults and we can’t admit we’re scared. Nobody wants to say the reason they haven’t shared their novel is because of fear. Perfectionist tendencies are more civil.
And yet, hiding under the weeds of all the undone projects isn’t perfectionism… you see it, fear.
Are you a perfectionist? Maybe. Or are you hiding behind fear?
Let’s assume you’re like most of us mortals and have perfectionist and fear issues.
How do we punch perfectionism in the mouth? Let me give three actionable steps.
1. We fight perfectionism by dancing with it.
The reason I came out guns blazing and accused you of being a liar is because perfectionism will find you. It doesn’t matter if you’ve published a million things, finished tons of projects, and shipped monumental work into the world.
Perfectionism and fear come with every project.
I’ve written over twenty books, and each project is riddled with fear and perfectionism. A voice in my head saying: You’re a published author... this thing better not suck. Your fans have expectations.
Instead of choosing the drunken and lying down in the fetal position author route, I dance.
I’ve learned to dance with fear and perfectionism. Expect it. I welcome it and know it’s coming in some shape or form.
I know the voices playing in my head will want to proofread one more time, change this sentence, or have the designer tweak the cover.
Fear. That’s all. I don’t want to admit I fear rejection. But we learn to dance with it. When I know it’s coming, I can dance and deal.
2. We fight perfectionism with deadlines.
Many times our projects will have its own built in deadline. But I’d set your own self-induced deadline. Why?
So you can give your perfectionist and fearful tendencies a specified amount of time to play their deadly games. Once the deadline arrives, we ship.
Think of it like a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) in software world. You set a deadline, no more tweaks, edits, and obsessing over every detail and critical review.
Let it out into the world.
3. We fight perfectionism by not making it personal.
Most of our perfectionist and fear-based tendencies come from our minds.
Somewhere along the line we crafted a narrative based in fiction. Maybe a third grade teacher said your writing was junk, or a loved one said your career path was suspect.
The fictional narrative seeped into your work and it became personal. Not only is my project junk, I’m junk.
We fight perfectionism by not making it personal. The dude in his underwear on the internet leaving you bad reviews isn’t your audience. The work isn’t for him.
Stop wrapping your value and self worth into the stuff you’re making. Your offering to the world is a small fraction of what makes you, you.
Don’t make it personal.
Perfectionism and fear are real. But if we can dance, make a deadline, and not make it personal. I think we’ll make some beautiful art for the world to enjoy.
Now go punch perfectionism in the face. Or is it fear? You decide.
*Originally published on Medium.