Have you ever considered the penetratingly painful cost of perfectionism?

Perfectionism runs strong in my veins. How strong?

Picture a tall, pimply Year 12 girl, outfitted in her school dress uniform complete with a blazer, thick beige tights and fiercely polished shoes.

It was a cold winter’s night in Campbelltown, and the overheated school hall was packed with parents and students waiting to hear the winner of the school public speaking competition.

The school Principal slowly made their way to the microphone. “I am pleased to announce that the winner of this year’s best speaker competition is … Ingrid Moyle!”

The blood pounded in my ears. “There must be some mistake,” I stammered under my breath.

I stumbled my way up the stairs to the stage, and saw all the beaming faces of my teachers, parents and friends looking up at me.

I was horrified!

I could see them wildly applauding as I was handed my trophy and book prize (a massive collected works of Shakespeare), but all I could hear were my thoughts screaming at me “You don’t deserve this. Mary did a much better speech than you did. You were only 1/10th of what you should have been.”

I somehow made it off stage and grabbed the speaking coach while babbling, “There has to be a mistake! I sucked up there. I need to give this back. Mary was much better than me!”

The teacher looked intensely uncomfortable and muttered platitudes about how great I was, but I believed that I had not been as fabulous as everyone said I had been.

I knew deep within myself that on that particular night, I was off my game, and I was mediocre at best. However, I also discovered that my mediocre was still pretty darn good according to other people.

Being caught up in my own perfectionism, I robbed myself of the joy at the moment (and made a lot of people uncomfortable in the process).

It was only much later when my speaking coach sat me down to debrief that she had me think through what I did well. It was then that I started to realise that we are our harshest critic.

Many times, what we do is better than we realise. We simply are looking at our performance through a microscope when others are viewing it with a telescope.

She also had me consider how I would deliver that speech differently in the future, and from that, I began to see that one performance is a start and not an end.

Life is a series of drafts of ever-increasing complexity. One performance simply gives you the foundation to adjust and improve for next time, but unless you stand up and deliver that first performance, then you have already lost.

A shiny trophy.

Perfectionism stifles creativity

You see, I am a card-carrying member of Perfectionists Anonymous.

There is a microscopic line between doing a brilliant job and becoming obsessively perfectionistic about something.

I am one of those people who will move an image one or two pixels to the right or left just to get a gorgeous result on a web page. I am someone who will read over and edit something I have written more than a dozen times to make sure that the words are the most potent that they can be.

This, to me, is simply doing a great job.

But one of the things that writing and speaking have taught me over the years is that there are incredibly few moments when the words are perfection straight off the bat.

Words and thoughts are uncovered and then polished – a bit like diamonds. No diamond looks beautiful freshly dug out of the ground: You have to polish it first. But before you can polish a diamond, you have to dig it up first.

As Jodi Picoult once said, “You can’t edit a blank page.”

Deeply think about that for a moment. You can’t edit a blank page.

To edit, polish or improve, you have to have something more than random thoughts in the air. You have to have written your thoughts down, or spoken them out loud to someone. You have to have something that is editable. You have to have implemented something in order to be able to adjust it.

A pen exploding with stars.

Writing about yourself and your business is hard

For me, my perfectionism virus strikes most strongly when I look to my own business. Give me a client project, and I am right on it. Ask me to do something for my business, and then I suddenly need more and more “somethings”.

The siren’s allure of perfectionism can spiral my self-talk into telling me that I just need that one more bit of research before I start, or that I need to wait to be struck by the inspiration fairy to discover that perfect copywriting hook before I really get into it.

Anyone else been there? Obsessively ordering more self-help books looking for that magic “aha” moment? Buying or starting more courses, coaching or training while telling yourself that you really need that one nugget of information and that with it all your business challenges will be magically whisked away?

Waiting for that perfect “something” means your life is filled with blank pages that sullenly stare at you, waiting to be filled.

You find yourself suddenly being busy and ignoring those blank life pages, but all you are doing is “stuff” and not what takes you further towards your goals.

You avoid starting to avoid failing.

This means you also avoid all the juiciness that life has to offer and avoid the messy lessons that life delivers.

An old fashioned quill and a blank book.

Breaking through the perfectionism barriers

What helps me cut through the perfectionism virus is to take action. To talk my ideas through with a trusted colleague or mentor. To write my random thoughts down (no matter how ugly the drafts may be). To give it a go and then edit and adjust.

The next time you are stuck with a perfectionism virus in your business, remember that you can’t edit a blank page.

Breaking perfectionism starts with action. It can be as tiny an action as jotting a few notes or making a call – but you still need to do something and not just think something.

What I know from working with hundreds of small business owners on their websites is that your business has hidden gems waiting to be revealed. Sure, you may need help with implementation, but I guarantee that provided you are running an ethical business, there will be diamonds itching to be discovered.

It’s one of the things I adore doing the most with my clients. Sitting down and chatting while we quietly excavate all the fantastic hidden diamonds in their business, and then giving them a first draft to edit and work with. The stunned joy in their eyes as they discover how truly amazing they are from an outsider’s perspective never gets old!

As a fellow Perfectionist Anonymous member, I help my clients to break through their perfectionism barriers, to see their business with new eyes and to share their sparkling diamonds with the world.  

I help them make the invisible visible in their business, and to step their business up so they can attract the clients and business that they truly deserve.

Of course, there are thousands of different ways to find your diamonds in your business, and I am only one way, but if you find your way to move your perfectionism paralysis into action then the diamonds WILL appear and you can then start to fill your blank pages.

Embrace life. Fill your blank pages with glorious mistakes and spectacular successes.

Get up and make that first speech or write that first draft and be as gentle on yourself as a wonderful mentor who genuinely cares about your success.

Remember – you on a bad day may be someone’s life-shattering “aha!”.

Ingrid Moyle

Ingrid Moyle is the Chief Web Wizard at Heart Harmony Communications. A self-confessed multipotentialite, Ingrid shamelessly blends her passions of human resources, psychology, web design and copywriting. When not hardwired to her computer, she quests for the perfect coffee while chasing virtual reality creatures across the backstreets of Brisbane.
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