The Insidiousness of Perfectionism: 5 Ways it Can Ruin Your Business (And Life)

If I could personify a single belief and make it a spy to do my bidding, I would pick perfection. Why? The belief in perfection is pervasive. It’s sneaky. It seems reasonable. It appears to have good intentions. But the belief in it will absolutely tank your life – and especially your business. The belief in perfection appears to be noble, but in actuality it puts others down. The belief in perfection appears to be ambitious, but in reality it’s petty and weakens your drive.

Holding a relationship to standards of perfection means you’re setting the other person up to be completely unqualified, no matter how wonderful they are. Holding yourself to a standard of perfection means you’re never good enough and will never achieve your goals.

Why is this true? Because perfection is a lie!

With the very limited exception of God, if you believe in Him, (and by extension Jesus, etc.), NOTHING is perfect. Yet we continually hold things in our life to a standard of perfection that doesn’t exist, and we wait (and pass up awesome things) for this mythical perfection to show up.

There are a million and one angles I could take this idea. But given that this is a blog about freelance writing geared towards freelance writers who want to make a living writing (or want to do it better), I’m going to discuss the business approach to this fallacious thinking and explore five ways that the belief in perfection undermines your business. 

You Wait For Perfection Before You Publish

Now I’m not talking about editing here. Always edit what you post, publish, and submit. That’s just being a professional. But what I am talking about is obsessive perfectionism that holds you back.

Let me tell you a story from my own life to illustrate my point. I’m in the process of completely revamping my website, and part of that new design is a brand new content library. This library is all about content marketing; how it works, what it is, who uses it, why it’s important, and how hiring a professional content marketer and writer can help take your business from zero to hero.

I was convinced that I needed to stock my entire library (that’s over 100 articles) before I hit publish. My plan was to wait until the blog was up, the library was stocked, the eBooks were written, the white papers were published, and everything was set to go before I hit publish.

The problem is, if I’d waited for all of those things to fall into place, I’d be missing out on a ton of business in the process. So, I decided to write a page of content that described the different types of content in which I specialize and why they’re important, create the framework for the library, and put a notice to the effect that starting today the library would be stocked on a regular basis, and should be nearly done by February 1st. The day the Seahawks will win their second Super Bowl. *Covers mouth* Sorry. Hawksitis, I can’t help it.

Anyway. You see my point. My traffic has already increased, I’m getting more hits, and I can start marketing what I do have now. Also, by continually updating my website, I’ll become more active and relevant in the eyes of Google, so in a way it really does help me.

If I’d waited for perfection before I clicked publish, I’d still have a kinda cruddy website that wasn’t getting traffic and made me look silly. At least having the framework and consistently working on my site tells people I’m serious about my business and actively engaged in it.

You Edit Too Much

As I said before, editing is completely necessary. However, there is such a thing as over-editing. It’s that point where you’ve read it sixteen times – today – but you have to go through it, just one more time, because you might have missed something. At this point, errors start to jump out at you that aren’t really errors, and you start to see mistakes that aren’t there. The result is a completely robotic and sterile piece of writing that is boring at best, and barely readable at worst. Believing in perfection will drive you to this point almost every time. If you can read it, it makes your point, there are no glaring errors, and you sound professional, hit publish. You can always fix errors later.

You Get Nothing Done

I mentioned before that I’m in the process of stocking my website with a ton of content, all of which I insist on writing myself. After all, if I’m marketing my content marketing and writing services, I’d better be writing my own content, as well. Curating content is important when you’re a corporation selling a piece of technology, or insurance packages. But when you’re selling your writing, the writing you market with should be yours. That’s my personal belief.

So what would happen if I decided that not only did the site have to be stocked before I hit publish, but every single piece of content on the site had to be flawless before I ever put it up?

Nothing. That’s what would happen. I would never get through the first article, never publish anything, and my website would likely never get done. If you believe in perfection and go after this unrealistic ideal, nothing will ever get done. Do what you need to do, and do the best you can do, and let the rest go. Most errors can always be fixed.

You’re Never Happy

I don’t know about you, but I became a freelance writer so I could live a life that made me happy. Happiness, however, is an internal state, and it comes from being content. Not complacent, mind you. But content with how things are. You can write something, edit it a couple of times, and publish it with a smile. If you’re continually killing yourself off trying to attain this ridiculous goal of perfection, you’re never going to get anything done, and you’ll be miserable in the process.

Your Perfectionism Will Become a Cancer

It might just be perfectionism regarding your business right now. But if you let the belief in perfection take over one area of life, sooner or later it will spill over into other areas, becoming a kind of cancer that takes over everything. Your husband will never be good enough, your kids will never get high enough grades, dinner will never be early enough, you’ll never be thin enough, and everything in your life will suddenly be subject to the completely unreachable ideal of “perfection”. It’s not healthy, and it’s not right. So stop it now before it takes over.

Truth: Imperfection is Okay; Misinformation is Not

Here’s the truth that Perfection doesn’t want you to know about. Ready? Perfection is not a requirement; accuracy is. If you’re dispersing accurate and helpful information that you believe in and can be backed up, then good for you! Minor mistakes can be fixed; lapses in morality and ethics can’t. So as long as your’e telling the truth, being as accurate as possible, and creating helpful information, you can always work on the rest.

A Story About a Massive Mistake That Didn’t End My Career

I have a publishing disaster to tell you about. Awhile back I published a book called The Top 25 Mistakes Freelance Writers Make (And How to Fix Them). I unpublished it for several reasons, mainly because I no longer think the information within it is accurate (the same reason I’m taking down some of my older posts). However, after a round of edits I re-published this book about a year ago and had several people buy it and then ask for a refund. This is really rare on Amazon, so I was confused.

I opened it up and looked at the preview.

And discovered that I hadn’t published the final draft – I’d published the final showing markup. Yup! Every single “Track Changes” edit that my editor had made was there, published, for all to see.

And you know what happened? Three people think I’m an idiot, I took it down, and I’ve done okay since. Mistakes happen. Imperfection is a way of life for everyone who’s being honest. But almost nothing is beyond fixing.

Note: I’m not saying that giant goals aren’t valid. Dream as big as you want. But just make sure that when you dream about your castle in the sky, you’re okay with some peeling paint and a plugged toilet now and then. Because this is life, and that’s what happens. 

Let me know what you think about perfectionism, and tell us any stories you have that illustrate the point of today’s post. (Or ones that don’t.) 🙂


2 Comments Add yours

  1. jesseds11 says:

    Hey Courtney!
    I first off wanted to say that I love your blog!! Very insightful into the daily workings/challenges of someone trying to do freelance. SO helpful! I was wondering if there was an email, or pm, where I could ask you some questions about Constant Content! Would be willing to pay for your time, just really would love some more insight into it; from someone who knows. Have a list of questions/queries. I saw you had a FB, but did not want to message you, and be like “Whooo the heeeeell is this dude?!” LOL. Anyways, I hope your 2015 has been “poppin” and much joy!!
    Jesse Sulam

    1. courtneyherz says:

      Hey thanks!! And sure my author page is a great place to PM me. 🙂 Glad you like the blog!!!

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