Perfectionism: The Silent Symptom of Fear

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Welcome back!

So far we’ve talked about procrastination and its cousin, taking the wrong action. Both of these are common fears. Here’s another: Perfectionism.

This is another one that’s incredibly difficult to spot. That’s because perfectionism is socially acceptable. Indeed, it’s often rewarded and even encouraged. People are told to “do the best you can.” This way of thinking can easily lead to perfectionism, which is just another manifestation of fear.

The other reason why perfectionism is so difficult to spot is because it makes you feel busy. You’re actually working on an important task, something on your to do list. But endless tweaking and trying to get it just right means you’ll never finish it… and that’s fear.

You see, some people procrastinate by never even starting an important project. Those who have their fears manifest as perfectionism are different. They’ll get extremely close to finishing a project… but then the perfectionist kicks in and the task never gets complete.

For example:

  • An aspiring novelist may get an entire book complete, but he keeps endlessly tweaking each chapter to make it perfect. He won’t share it with anyone else – he won’t actually try to sell it or pitch it to a publisher – until it’s “perfect.” This perfect state never arrives, of course.
  • Someone who wants to start a blog fiddles endlessly with the blog design, choosing the right domain name and so on. He spends so much time working on these various details that he ever even gets around to writing one blog post.

Sometimes people look for a “perfect” state where they know it probably doesn’t exist (and they can’t control it anyway if it did). Case in point, the person who’s looking for the perfect mate. He or she will turn down date after date after date, because the other person isn’t perfect. If this person’s goal is to get married, this fear manifesting itself as looking for someone “perfect” just serves as a block to this happiness.

Many perfectionists are afraid of one of the two big fears: Success or failure. It’s quite common to be afraid of failure, hence the perfectionist’s relentless pursuit of perfection. In the perfectionist’s mind, seeking out this perfection simply decreases the chance of failure.

Other times, perfectionism becomes a tidy excuse for them not moving forward. Once the perfectionist can admit what he is really afraid of, he can overcome the fear and start moving forward quickly.

Now here’s the thing…

Hands-on experience and learning on-the-fly are two of the best teachers. That is, you can sit around tweaking endlessly, but until you finish your project and really put it to the test, you have no idea if your tweaks are even improving the project. See, all those tweaks might be changing – but not necessarily improving – whatever it is you’re doing. Thus trying to make something perfect actually may be a waste of time.

Look around at the world’s wealthiest companies and individuals, and you’ll soon see that they understand that real-world experimentation moves a project much more quickly than any amount of perfectionism.

Take software companies as an example, like Microsoft and their Windows products. These software products are good, but they’re certainly not perfect when they’re released. That’s because Microsoft executives realize that if they try to uncover every possible bug or loophole or exploitation point in the software, the job will never end. Simply put, it’s an impossible task.

Instead, software companies like Microsoft roll out the product in stages by letting “beta testers” test the product in a variety of conditions. After that, the product is sold to a larger audience whose experiences differ from other beta testers. In all cases, these real-world tests are the quickest way to uncover flaws.

Point is, your project is the same way. If you want to know if you’re a success, get it out on the market. It’s the only way to know for sure.

That’s it for this time. Next time you’ll learn about feeling overwhelmed

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