Fall From Perfect | How perfectionism is crippling your productivity

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perfectionism

I was watching a recent episode of Shark Tank, when I heard something that struck a nerve. This was more than mere conviction, it was like catching a punch straight to the face. Occasionally, I will hear someone talking to an undesignated audience, yet I feel that he or she is speaking directly to me. As if I had been the star of the Truman Show with the whole world watching and learning the little idiosyncrasies that make me tick on prime-time TV, and now the producer had created a show to specifically tell me that I’d been messing up and it’s time for a change. The Sharks saw something in the man’s pitch and they would have seen it in myself had I been there. They ultimately chose not to partner with the man for one reason: he was a PERFECTIONIST.

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This contestant had spent almost five years in research and development and would have been a fast mover in this market. I wanted to buy the product myself while still watching his pitch, something that rarely happens for a minimalist. The Sharks must have seen the value,but decided not to partner with him because he was clearly bogged down by the idea that everything had to be in its optimal, perfect and omniscient state before going to market. This wasn’t ideal because driving revenue was less important to this man than the brilliant shine on his product.

As I said, this truth hit a nerve. I have been guilty of this for different reasons at nearly every point in my life. Hearing the pop-culture elected, TV star venture capitalists describe this as a major character flaw, even though the product was indeed perfect, had a dramatic impact on my life. I started peeling back the onion of my own insecurities and really didn’t like was I beginning to see. I had begun using my “perfectionist” trait as an excuse. I always needed more time, more QC, more input. But all I’d been getting was less: less output, less involvement, and less momentum. Sitting in my living room with only the blue light from the TV for illumination, I realized something very important. My quest for perfect had left me crippled.

“Perfectionism might look good in its shiny shoes, but he’s kind of an asshole and no one invites him to pool parties”

– Ze Frank, An Invocation for Beginnings

Putting it Out There

It’s difficult to be vulnerable as a writer, but it’s also impossible to write without leaving yourself vulnerable. I had found myself in a rare and precarious position. I had recently left the Navy where I served as a SEAL for the better part of a decade. I had also served in Afghanistan as a private contractor while attending business school. Additionally, when I was in the U.S., I was always on the move in the family RV (28000 miles in 3 years to be exact). I never had the desire to write about anything on the operational level, but I’ve traveled so much and met so many amazing people that I found myself with quite a bit to say about life, finding happiness through excitement, and the pursuit of balance, both mentally and physiologically. I have had the fortune to meet and work with the highest quality of professionals from all over the world. I have been exposed to so many worldviews, socio economic conditions, and personality types that I’m constantly inspired to share what I’ve learned with the people that I care about.

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Despite having inspiration, a message that people needed, and a word processor, I was unable to get going. In fact, the act of sharpening my pencil had become more important than putting that pencil to paper. I had all the excuses that I needed wrapped up in the justifiable, shiny box of perfectionism. The purpose of my excuse: to compensate for all my insecurities.

Balancing Act

Remember that achieving balance means to not go too far in either direction. When you’re driving on a road, if you go too far to the right, you will hit a ditch. Just remember that the same is true for veering off too far to the left. There are pitfalls on both extremes of the road. If you live in an undisciplined, unorganized, impatient default state, then there is much you can learn from the perfectionist. However, if you sometimes find yourself delaying further gain due to your insecurities and fears, then you need to come back to center.

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Here’s an example: We all live on a dial from 1 to 10. For this analogy, the dial represents our intensity level. 1 is the most relaxed a person can be, while 10 is the most fired up. As the 1 gets ready for a high-pressure situation, they may benefit from listening to rock music beforehand to get them to a 4. Conversely, the 10 will need to listen to classical music to slow his heart rate down to a 6. Your default state will ultimately determine what direction you should go to find center. If you are impulsive and angry at a business associate, then draft your email in the evening, wait until morning, review it, make your sensible changes, and then hit the send button. But if you are a procrastinator, then you will need to draft a version of the email the night before so that the workload is less in the morning and the email will get checked off the To-Do list. The action is similar and the outcome is the same, but the motivation is different depending on what side of the dial you find yourself.

Find Peace in Admitting Your Fear

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Fear is not a bad thing. It’s one of the major reasons we have survived as a species. The caveman knew that sleeping in a fortified position was necessary because he was appropriately afraid of predators. This emotion kept our early ancestors alive. They knew they would be hunted after dark and embraced their fear. Of course, too much of one thing always has a negative impact. If the caveman were too afraid to leave the cave, then he would quickly starve to death. Ultimately, to be fearless is to die as is being too afraid. The point is that fear is normal and acceptable. You don’t need any more excuses. You need balance and peace will follow.

We cannot wait for our thoughts to be perfect because they never will be. We are imperfect people and our words will always exist as such. I once heard a wise man say, “strive for perfection, but celebrate progress along the way”. Let’s replace “Perfect’ with Progress. Let’s refuse to focus on the end to such an extreme that we forget to value the process itself. This will enhance our output, our confidence, and our ability to be disruptors in a world that needs disrupting.

There is no reason to sharpen my pencils, my pencils are sharp enough, even the dull ones will leave a mark.

– Ze Frank, An Invocation for Beginnings

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