I have a kid who is an artist and creator. Like many humans, she is hard on herself. She judges her own work against others who have more practice, more experience – oftentimes forgetting about the extra practice and experience part. She has high expectations. You could even say she is a bit of a perfectionist.
As a non-artist and observer, I see her get excited about projects, create detailed plans, collect pieces for projects….and then not start them. It took me awhile to understand the way this process worked for her.
I’ll be honest, I got frustrated with the seemingly endless enthusiasm for new projects that came to a dead stop after the supplies were bought. Over and over again, no matter how enthusiastic she was and no matter how much detail and thought she put into finding items for her projects – they never made it past the initial burst of interest.
After some casual, yet deep, conversations about what she really wanted to do and how she envisioned her art looking and I realized her desire to make something perfectly (or her version of perfect) was getting in the way of her creating anything at all. At some point, on some level, she decided that not ever starting, even if she had a burning desire to create, was less painful and frustrating than creating something that didn’t live up to her expectations.
I realized that my role in this situation wasn’t to make her complete projects or promise her everything would be ok, and she’d always be happy with the outcome. Instead, my role was to introduce her to some different ways of thinking. So, I started to talk the artistic process more. I shared examples of where I got stuck when creating and how unhelpful it is, for me, to compare what I create to someone else’s creation. We watched videos of artists creating (thank you, YouTube), we watched TED Talks on failure and trying and other topics that I hope will plant a little seed that whispers “Your art doesn’t have to be perfect. Just create.”
Of course, it is easy for me to look at her and see why she is stuck. So, I turned my reflection on myself and saw the same tendencies (yeah, yeah, like mother, like daughter). How many great ideas have I had that I didn’t go forward with because I was worried I couldn’t keep up with them? Or execute them to my standards? How many things haven’t I written because I was worried they wouldn’t be good enough or original enough?
I realized my clients often had similar hang ups. They get stuck on perfection before they even start – and then they can’t move forward.
This is a common scenario:
A new business owner is excited about her business.
But first she needs business cards.
But before she can make business cards, she needs a website so she has a URL to put on the business card.
Before she can make a website, she has to pick a template.
But first she has to pick a website platform.
But before she can create a website she needs a logo.
Before she can pick a logo she needs brand colors and a font.
And maybe she should create an email list, but before she can create an email list she needs social media pages to link to.
And before she can create social media pages she needs a logo and a website.
And maybe she should get business cards.
At the end of the day, instead of moving forward on her business, she has run herself into exhaustion on a mental hamster wheel. Not only that, the initial enthusiasm has been lost and the momentum that could have carried them through the creation process has wandered off.
This is the advice I give these clients who are stuck in that loop of thinking:
Stop circling and freaking yourself out. No part of your new business will be perfect. It will always be evolving. Pick options that you don’t hate and move on with growing your business.
And you know what? That applies to most aspects of what we do. Yes, work hard. Yes, put in your best possible effort. And then let go so that your focus is on moving forward.
Several years ago, I participated in National Novel Writing Month. This is a mad dash to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It is doable, but not if you are constantly second-guessing and re-writing. There is a weird freedom in knowing that your first draft would be bad and not ready to be published. I found myself jumping in to the middle of the story during one writing sprint and jumping to the end at another – because order didn’t matter, lead-in sentences didn’t matter, not even grammar mattered – just getting the words out.
Obviously, anything we share under our business should be spell-checked and read over for errors, but if perfection is keeping you from sharing anything – how is that any worse than if you have an extra space between sentences or mix up “your” and “you’re” once?
Your website? After six months you’ll want to move things around and maybe change your template.
Your logo? Same.
Your business cards? Order the smallest amount possible because you WILL be changing them up a little the next time you order.
Perfection and getting it absolutely right the first time isn’t an attainable goal. Nor should it be. Your business will change from year to year. You grow, you learn, and your business will reflect that.
Step away from perfectionism and embrace “acceptable for now because I have more important things to work on” and then get on with the business of being amazing at what you do.
Musings about marketing, social media, and small business.