Entrepreneurs

Is Your Business Sucking The Life Out Of You? Perfectionism May Be To Blame

When you became an entrepreneur, you dreamed of freedom.  Financial freedom, freedom of lifestyle, freedom to make your own decisions, freedom to impact causes you are passionate about.  Now, if you’re being honest, you have anything but freedom.  You are working long hours, stressed out, thinking about work all of the time and perfectionism may be to blame.  

There’s a negative connotation to perfectionism and most people don’t recognize that it’s at play.  So what is perfectionism and how can you tell if you’re suffering from it?

“Perfectionism is striving for excellence taken to the extreme, ‘excellence on steroids,’ says master certified coach, Emily Golden. Emily is the founder of Golden Resources and author of “The New Golden Rule.”

“Although striving for excellence is where it’s at, when we take it to the extreme, it becomes deleterious,” notes Golden. “Perfectionism leads to burn-out, exhaustion, overwhelm, disconnection from our purpose, and in some cases, looking for an escape.  My work has revealed that what’s driving many professionals to ‘strive for excellence to the extreme’ is fear.  Fear of failure, fear of being seen as a fraud or imposter, fear of being found out for not being as smart as, fear of being seen as not as put together as others, fear of what people might think or say, fear of falling from grace.”     

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So, how do you know if what’s sucking the life out of you isn’t your business but rather your tendency toward perfectionism?

Golden asks five questions that might reveal if you do:

  • Are you burning the candle at both ends?  No matter how much you’ve worked, it’s still not enough.  
  • Do you have a very high bar that seems to keep getting higher?  Do you sometimes struggle to reach that bar yourself?  And are you often disappointed in others inability to get it right?    
  • Do you experience a need to get it “just right”?  One more tweak, one more re-work, one more edit and then it will be ready only to realize hours have passed and it’s closer but not quite there?
  • Is your self-worth outsourced to others and conditional upon what you do?  Do you seek validation from external sources more than others seem to?  Do you notice yourself looking for recognition, getting a “high” each time you’re noticed for your work? 
  • Are you over-functioning and under-delegating?  You’re almost embarrassed to admit some of the items on your to-do list as a senior leader but you know all too well what happens when you delegate.  You lose control.. control of the quality, the timeline, etc!     
  • Are you playing 100% games?  It’s all or nothing.  If you can’t do it “right” you won’t do it at all.  For example, you can’t get that 45 minute yoga routine in so you scrap practicing for today.  You can’t reply to that email with a long and thoughtful response so you don’t reply at all or you take time out of time you had carved out for yourself or your family to do so.

If you see yourself in two or more of these bullets, you may be dealing with perfectionism in your business.

5 Tips To Beat Perfectionism

1. Perfectionism Is An Un-winnable Game

“Redefine success by asking yourself how you can win,” says Golden. “For example, make a game out of failure.  Challenge yourself to take a risk that could result in failure every day.  Start with small things like not responding to an email right away or make a small mistake on purpose. Move on to bigger things like saying ‘no’ to something you’d have been an automatic ‘yes’ to in the past or make a big mistake on purpose. 

“Instead of being afraid of failing, embrace a ‘fail faster and fail often’ mentality.  Failure is inevitable if you’re in the game.  Failure isn’t permanent and it’s an opportunity to learn.  When you are taking new action, you will inevitably feel discomfort.  Not sending that email response immediately will send your brain into overdrive with fear about what could happen.  Know that giving into it by responding to the email, while satisfying the urge in the moment, only perpetuates the habit of responding to emails in record time (there’s no olympic medal for this!). 

“Instead plan for the discomfort and impulse to send that email by replacing the urge with another action: going for a run, playing with your child, ideally something physical instead of sending that email.  Each time you do this, you will have ‘won’ the game you’re playing for another day, building a new habit.  And if you do it one day and not the next, forgive yourself, recommit and get back to it!”    

2. Increase Your Tolerance For Imperfection  

Living in an all or nothing world makes it impossible to see that there’s value in imperfection.  Golden says, “Challenge yourself to see the value in the imperfect. For example, art that is exact with perfect lines and dimensions is no less valuable than art with wavy lines and uneven elements, right?  A tree in the woods is no less valuable than the other trees next to it because it bends left when the others stand straight.  In fact, there’s beauty in that tree that is different.  Consider that there is beauty in your imperfections, too.  Showing your own imperfections through vulnerability and authenticity have the power to create breakthroughs in your life and relationships more than any perfect result.  People feel closer to the imperfect person than they do to the person who appears to have it all together.” 

3. Increase Your Focus On Well-Being 

“This can not be overemphasized,” warns Golden. “Perfectionists think that being productive equates to hard work, all the time.  My experience and studies tell me that hard work is a part of the equation but sleep, time off, healthy eating, exercise, joy and laughter in addition to hard work result in higher levels of productivity.  Prioritize these pieces of your pie like your success depends on it, because it does.” 

4. Put An End To “Compare And Despair” 

“What other entrepreneurs are doing in their business is none of your business,” notes Golden. “Focus on your wins, your growth, your evolution. Grab a piece of paper and write down all of your accomplishments. Go decade by decade starting at the age of 10. Revisit this list when ‘compare and despair’ sets in, because it will.  Challenge yourself to add to the list, there’s always more. If you find your brain is magnetically attracted to comparison and you must indulge it, benchmark yourself against YOU.  You last month, you last year, you 10 years ago.”

5. Ask For And Accept Imperfect Support

Here are some ways to do just that:

  • Partner with like minded entrepreneurs who are struggling with perfectionism.  It’s so much easier to see this divisive way of operating playing out for someone else and offer guidance on how to break it up than it is to do it for yourself.  And even if you don’t have any guidance for the other person, knowing you’re not alone and being each other’s accountability buddies on practices like the ones above, can be a big difference maker.  
  • Reach out to a friend or mentor and ask for acknowledgement.  Perfectionism is excellence with a heavy layer of fear.  A dose of love and reassurance will often be just what the doctor ordered.  It’s an act of courage and leadership to ask for what you need when you need it.  
  • Hire other professionals who can remove items from your overflowing plate.  A virtual assistant, online business manager, social media manager, personal assistant, etc.
  • Partner with a coach.  After all, you can’t read the label from inside the jar.  Sometimes you simply can’t see what’s happening or how to breakthrough on your own.  Hiring a coach is a sign of strength!  

“Shedding the perfectionism mindset can create lasting shifts in how you relate to yourself and your business,” explains Golden. It takes practice but I assure you as someone who has broken through to the other side, excellence is possible without burnout and exhaustion.  It’s incredibly freeing and you can have it too.”

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