The Perfection Trap

Letting go of perfection in all places can lead to near perfection in the important places. Learn some of my tips and tricks to be imperfect, impactful, and successful.

I’m guilty of falling into the perfection trap. It’s still a path that I fight daily – though I’ve come a long, long way and I’m proud of that. In my early days in marketing, I can remember combing through data, cross-functional partner interviews, sales feedback, market research, and market analysis to pull it all into one succinct strategy and – more eminently – a presentation for management. In those days, it was common in my organisation to present to my manager first, then my manager’s manager, and then finally our division head. I remember getting feedback on using the word “a” versus “the,” changing a color from blue to red, adding a line, emphasising the third word, etc. etc. We were all so focused on having this perfect presentation. By the time I walked into the room with the division head, my head was swimming with all of these tiny, itty-bitty changes and I would almost forget my main point. What was my message?

It took many years, a lot of perspective, and two kids (if I’m being totally honest), to realise that not only was perfection getting in the way of my happiness, it was getting in the way of my effectiveness.

Perfection in every place means you lose impact in the important places.

Today, things are different for me. Don’t get me wrong, I will still likely proof read this blog one too many times before setting it free for your eyes, but now, I have tools to help me find balance and stop.

Here are some tips and tricks I use to avoid getting caught in the perfection trap:

  • Start with the end. What is your end goal or message? If you could only accomplish one thing today or land one message with your audience, what would it be? Does it align with your vision and mission? This is really great if you are getting ready for a presentation or sales pitch. Bullet point out your main take away messages and focus on the one or two slides, or talking points that land that part of your message. All other supporting material and slides combined should take less time to put together than the one or two important ones. When you first start working with this concept, you might even challenge yourself with a timer and have a little fun with it. You will get better the more you practice.
  • Ask yourself where are my expertise unique and necessary? If you are anything like this perfectionist, delegation can sometimes be hard but it’s important. Just because you may be able to do something better, ask yourself if it’s really necessary? Go back to your end goal (see first bullet) and ask yourself which pieces of the project/task in front of you can you best contribute to support your objective. And, then write down somewhere, “It won’t be the same as I would do it.” As you practice this more, you will find that sometimes the end result is actually better than what you would do when delegated – and sometimes it’s not but there are other benefits. What gift are you giving to others when you delegate? My kids now have to tidy their room before bed. When we first started this, I used to grit my teeth at what the end result looked like. However, over time, they have gotten better at it and they feel proud and responsible for contributing to our household. Plus, I get a few minutes to chat with my partner while chaotic cleaning, dancing, and the lyrics of the Frozen sound track float down the stairs.
  • What am I not allowing myself to do or experience by achieving perfection? I love this question. If I find myself getting caught in a cycle of over-analysing, over-designing, or over-organising, this question is always a showstopper for me. Spending too much time on one project is very often at the expense of another one – or worse at the expense of my family. I remember getting caught up in a video project I was editing last week, and, as I heard my daughters laughing in their room, I was reminded that bedtime stories with my two favourite little people was more important than the “nice to have” video I was working on. Often, the need for perfection comes from the voice in my head that prevents me from achieving my values and goals. In business speak, it’s the shiny, quick win opportunity that distracts you from your mission and goals for the year. That video was not the most important thing for my business mission and goals but completing it was a quicker win than my long-term strategy. I was able to re-focus and enjoy a bit of Harry Potter with my eldest AND get back on track with the important parts of my business goals the next day.
  • Would I pay myself for this? It’s helpful to have in mind an hourly rate for yourself (even if salaried). When I’m working on something that has me spinning in circles, I often ask myself would I pay myself by the hour for this? If the answer is no, it may be that where you are is good enough or that the need for delegation applies. I now outsource my scheduling, my accounting, and a few other basic business functions so that I can focus on the things I love like coaching and strategy building. However, this can also apply to your personal life. Even today, while noticing my house was drowning in some misplaced toys and piles of paperwork, I allowed myself only a few minutes to tidy up a few bits and bobs while my coffee was brewing and then I called it good so I could get to this!
  • Celebrate the journey. Consider what’s important to you (or your business) and celebrate when you are honouring those values and drivers. I keep a list of my five most important values in front of me and I do a midday and end of day check in. Am I honouring my values for adventure and learning new things? If no, it’s often because I have let things like perfection get in my way. If yes, I celebrate and recognise it so that imperfection starts to feel better and more normalised over time. For me, celebration is often in the form of a good cup of coffee or some extra time with family. Some of my clients have started weekly check-ins with a friend to celebrate where they were each able to “let go” each week and honour their values. Celebrate what you learned and experienced on the journey, not what you did perfectly.

Perfection is hard to overcome but as you take small steps on the journey, you will find that by letting go in some places, you are better able to focus on others. Finding success and happiness often means you need to let go of things you have done your whole life if they aren’t in service to what you really want in your long-term vision. This can cue up some fear for many of us (especially if it’s ingrained in an organisational culture) but with some open conversation, this can also be overcome. Engage others around you to help you in your goals – potentially even clients. I have had open conversations with clients, where I tell them that I can charge them for perfection for every step along the way but it will cost a lot more, or we can agree that I won’t overcharge them and we will design a deliverable list that allows for us to hit the impactful pieces at each step. This allows us to get to the end goal in a smarter, efficient, and more flexible way for both sides.

The greatest gift of taking this journey, though it was scary at times, is that I found that I was closer to perfection than I had ever been on the IMPORTANT things – with less effort. I feel lighter, more fulfilled, and excited about what I’m doing – and my clients feel it too. And, while I admit, there are moments where the perfection trap still ensnares me, I can break free a lot faster using the tools I’ve learned along the way – and then I celebrate those learnings and my freedom!

If you would like to dive deeper on how perfection is getting in your way personally, celebrate what you’ve learned thus far, or develop ways of working for your business that will help you be effective and imperfect, we at LivthenticTM are only one free 1 to 1 meeting away where you will get one hour of uninterrupted attention on your areas of curiosity.

Also, join our mailing list to receive our newsletters. The current newsletter will provide you with some additional tools and resources on the topic of perfection, as well as help you stay up to date on what’s coming soon.

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