The Excuse of Perfection
I’ll admit I used to carry the mantle of “Perfectionist” with pride. Research is where I would thrive. If research was a sport, I’d win Gold AND Silver because I would have found a loophole due to the amount of research I did. An example of the depth I would go to would be buying my first flat screen TV. I researched the heck out of it. WHat was contrast ratio, pixel pitch, nits and lumens… I even spent time researching the geographical areas where the sand was being harvested and what grade of silicon was used in the flat panel.
It took me eight months to buy that TV.
So unless you’re a scientist, this level of detail is simply inefficient when you need to keep your momentum moving forward. Research gives you direction, but action is what keeps your moving.
This was difficult for me. It took years, but I finally realized I was a charlatan guised as a perfectionist. I had been lying to my peers, my managers, and worst of all, myself. Under further scrutiny, I found I had a very specific cycle:
- I saw action as “definitive”.
- Definitive meant commitment.
- Commitment made me worry.
- Worry kept me researching.
- Research kept me from taking action.
My projects would typically pass their deadlines; I’d have anxiety whenever I submitted something; I always felt over-worked; and I didn’t handle criticism from people I didn’t already respect.
It felt better to call myself a perfectionist than admit my immaturity.
I wasn’t a perfectionist; I was afraid, doubtful, and petty. So! I have compiled my issues into a logical progression list in hopes that fellow “perfectionists” might take a second look at themselves through this lens to see if they really are Masters of the Minute; or simply maturing as a business professional.
“Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure.” ― George Edward Woodberry
My fear would usually start under the guise of “concern” or “just wanting to do well”; then it would change into paralysis of analysis .I thought to myself “Anything less than perfection wasn’t acceptable.” My issue, which I wouldn’t realize until years later, was that “perfection” was a constantly moving bulls eye. It’s different for each person, manager, and customer you ask.
Fear was like a film over a mirror. I would start staring at the film and lose sight of what I was trying to actually focus on. I had to deal with a fear of success as well as a fear of failure. No wonder I would continue researching as long as I could.
#2: Low Self-Confidence
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection” ― Gautama Buddha
Migrating away from the “Fear Zone” left me producing things with a tentative stamp of approval. My thought was in case it went poorly, I could distance myself from it. This left me with a low level of professional confidence. On a personal level, I was affable and enthusiastic; but professionally, I always had issues speaking up.
Thankfully, I had friends, co-workers, and managers that fed me positive feedback. They told me my stuff was good and gave me trust even when I didn’t feel like I earned it. Eventually, I started to build my professional confidence and speak up more in meetings. It was tenuous in the beginning (as you’ll see in #3 & #4), and one of the harder personal hills to climb.
“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” ― Confucius
Criticism is hard, but negative criticism is caustic. If my ideas weren’t met with unanimous approval, I’d retract or get defensive. Looking back, I was holding myself to a higher standard than my peers as a way to overcompensate my lack of self-confidence. This didn’t help me at all.
I wanted to solve the problem, fix the issue, or lead the team in a way where I got recognition because I felt like if I got a certain amount of “kudos”, I could logically denounce my low self-confidence. I wanted others to notice me and recognize my skill or ability when I wasn’t able to do just that. I didn’t want to hear ways I could improve. I felt like if it could be improved, I hadn’t received that “kudos” I was desperately pursuing.
“A proud man is always looking down on thing and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.” ― C.S. Lewis
In overcompensating for my thin skin, I began to grow a slight bitterness toward others. I had convinced myself “if I wanted it down right, I had to do it myself”. I became a juggernaut on project teams and typically wouldn’t assign key areas outside of my control. To top it all off, I still wouldn’t take feedback from anyone. They were wrong and I was right.
I noticed this when I realized my “self talk” would sound encouraging at the expense of others. “Your idea was totally better because they can’t see _______.” It was a way of falsely building up my confidence. It wouldn’t last and the cycle would leave me more and more bitter. It was hard to admit that some people are simply better equipped to handle things than I was. Everyone has an unknown potential and it dawned on me that I didn’t want to be the hindrance to another person’s success.
#5: Overly Critical
“When you judge others, you do not define them, you define yourself.” ― Earl Nightingale
Sometimes when I wasn’t the one submitting the project, I had the opportunity to comment on others work. Colleagues would ask for my opinion ever so often. Forgetting that sometimes all I wanted to hear was “Good job!” when I was in their situation, I would usually find one or two things to change. Thus giving me satisfaction that I had somehow contributed.
it was a powerful thing to realize just because someone asks for my opinion doesn’t mean I had to find something wrong. In fact, I now make it a point to praise the individuals who I know suffer from the same low professional confidence I once had. Being critical wouldn’t help them mature. Being positive and focusing on their potential has worked much better.
I hope this list has helped someone else in their journey for professional maturity. Because sometimes, you need to change your career, and sometimes you need to change yourself.
(Originally published on January 28, 2015 on LinkedIn.)