In a prior post, Do You View a Failure as a Stop Sign or as a Stepping Stone?, I expressed the view that part of the problem of viewing a failure as a stop sign instead of as a stepping stone, is that we live in instant America. In our culture, there seems to be precious little patience for things that take time to develop.
The second factor discouraging us from learning from, then moving ahead and past a failure, is our culture’s preoccupation with perfectionism. It is an affliction from which many of us suffer, including me.
There are two significant ways that perfectionism sabotages us. Firstly, we set such impossible standards for ourselves that we sometimes don’t even have the courage to begin a project because we already know that it won’t be perfect.
Secondly, we live in fear that our failure might become today’s or this week’s social media sensation. There seems to be a type of person who delights in sharing other people’s missteps and mistakes. We can rightly fear being made a laughing stock by one of these people.
Two of my mentors have some very helpful advice to share in regard to dealing with the pernicious effects of perfectionism.
The first piece of advice comes from Gene Monterastelli. He advises us to fail in obscurity. What does he mean by this? Simply put, practice new ideas, presentations, etc., in front of small groups of people first. In other words, don’t try to play center court at Wimbledon when you are a notice tennis player.
I followed Gene’s advice in rolling out the first version of my proprietary Magnetize Your Message Method program a few years ago. A few daring souls agreed to listen to my 6 webinars and the follow-up tele-seminar; so that I could practice giving the course before launching it officially later that year.
It’s a good thing that I did this, because I found a number of things that need to be improved before I could go public. That course has subsequently morphed into its newer iteration, Communication Confidence Mastery.
The second piece of advice comes from Bill Baren. He continually exhorts people to take imperfect action. It is only in taking action that we can assess the results and then course correct the next time around.
Furthermore, thinking about taking imperfect action removes a powerful source of procrastination and fear. If we know it won’t be perfect, we might as well go ahead and try to do it anyway.
The ultimate reality about perfectionism is this: since we do not live in a messianic era, perfection is, ipso facto, impossible.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to do our best; only that we shouldn’t get on our case just because our best can never, ever be truly perfect.
Please share your thoughts about your own experiences with perfectionism.