To many of us, attaining a state of perfection is the ultimate achievement, whether we realize it or not.
Perfectionism comes in many forms, such as:
- continually striving to deliver more effective results for your clients,
- bringing on more contracts, or
- working 80hr weeks to bring in more revenue.
All arguably great things for our businesses, right?
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Now, in my own experience I find that we often don’t recognize this detrimental behavior once it’s kicked in and become habit.
I’ve recently begun taking a hard look at myself and how I function within my business. I’m seeing a recurring tendency to feel that there’s always more that can be done, and done better…despite already delivering strong results for my clients.
I’m realizing that in my own way, I consistently strive to be “perfect” at most things I do.
Do you ever feel like you’re in the same boat with your business? Share your story in the comments.
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Of course, starting with this goal of perfection means frequent failure, which can fuel the ambition to try even harder next time. But attempts at perfectionism can also be very harmful, and will likely lead to failure for your business.
Therefore, we freelancers must be very selective about what forms of perfect we pursue, and instead find balance between done and perfect.
Before I discuss the pitfalls of perfectionism, I do want to recognize that there are some major points in its favor, and examples of great business leaders who’ve triumphed with perfectionist ideals.
If you strive to be perfect, which, of course, you never will be, it does mean that you are always attempting to improve on what you are doing. This provides the opportunity to come up with some truly impressive innovations as you move toward that state of nirvana you crave, and in theory should make you an expert in your field.
Perfectionism can help over-achievers continually chase higher standards and expanded visions.
Some of society’s most innovative people have been perfectionists.
Steve Jobs, Apple’s late lamented leader, was once an adamant perfectionist. His obsession with detail, however, meant that the company took more than three years to develop the original Macintosh.
Jobs managed to temper his perfection as time progressed and hire people he trusted in. This helped Apple to become more capable of tackling the mass market and less of a niche product company.
Here’s an example: I’ve taken several months to develop my course on Writing a Winning Freelance Proposal, when I really could have polished it off in about 4 weeks total. Rather, I had to reshoot video content that wasn’t quite perfect and build new functionalities into my website that I really didn’t need.
I’ve decided to actively change this behavior and accept that “done” is better than “perfect and never completed.”
Pursuing excellence does not require perfection. Seek excellence, yet stop short of requiring unreasonably perfect results.
The reality is that for almost everyone, perfectionism is an impossible goal.
There is a near certainty that you will fail at whatever you are trying to do if you’re determined to be perfect. There’s also the real danger that you’ll suffer other side effects due to this obsession.
All of these are likely to be harmful to your business.
Perfectionists set impossibly high standards for themselves. As a result, they’re not happy even when they have achieved success because there is always more that could have been accomplished.
And many perfectionists struggle to achieve success in the first place simply because they’re afraid of making mistakes.
It can quickly become a lose-lose situation.
If you honestly believe you need everything to be perfect, you’re saddling yourself with a huge psychological burden.
Example: People may love watching Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory, laughing at his OCD and perfectionism, but few people would actually want to be him.
One of the most common types of perfectionism is self-oriented perfectionism, in which people impose high standards on themselves. Most people cannot live up to their self-imposed expectations and suffer extreme stress as a result.
Thankfully, for Apple’s sake, when Steve Jobs returned to the company after a lengthy absence, he had moderated his perfectionist streak and learned the importance of relying on a brilliant team to share the workload.
This change meant that neither Jobs nor his talented team had to suffer (as much) from the stress of his perfectionism as they previously had.
Perfectionists frequently feel others expect them to be perfect, and this places an enormous amount of pressure on them.
(Of course, most likely there’s little actual pressure, but a perfectionist cannot see that.)
There is also the flip side of this equation, where perfectionists often place high levels of pressure on others with ridiculous expectations. (Is your client one of them? Read more here about how to handle clients who pressure you to work faster.)
Cleverly dubbed “constructive sniping” by career coach Liz Ryan, this tendency by many to not acknowledge successes as often as picking out flaws can very easily create a negative mentality.
There’s always a trade-off between being perfect and being cheap. Somewhere in the middle lies the combination many of the world’s most successful business leaders have found.
Case in point: There is no doubt that Steve Jobs left an enormous legacy at Apple. However, his perfectionism was not cheap for the company.
To quote The New Yorker,
Jobs’s vision required Apple to control every part of the user experience, and to make everything it possibly could itself. Its hardware was proprietary: the company had its own Mac factory and favored unique cables, disk drives, and power cords, rather than standardized ones. Its software was proprietary, too: if you wanted to run Apple software, you needed to own an Apple computer. This made Apple’s computers more expensive than the competition.
You’ve got enough stress building a business; don’t let the idea of “perfect” turn a career you love into a burden!
How have you overcome the lure of perfectionism? What tips can you share?
Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your ideas.
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