The Trap of Perfection – jessdennis.com

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JESS DENNIS

The Trap of Perfection

November 5, 2019

Over the weekend I was listening to a podcast interviewing Marie Forleo about her new book, Everything if Figureoutable. In the interview, Marie talked about perfectionism and what she had to say hit me between the eyes. Prior to Balanced Entrepreneur and everything I’ve worked on with the book, the website, this blog and now the course I’ve never considered myself a perfectionist. I’m a doer through and through. I have an idea and I act, sometimes too fast. My tendency to act quickly has gotten me in more trouble than perfectionism ever has. I have high standards but never would I have considered myself a perfectionist.

Until now.

Something shifted in the last couple of years where perfectionism has reared its ugly head and prevented me from simply moving forward. For the first time in my life I’ve found myself on more than a handful of occasions overthinking something and reworking it to death, all on a quest to make it “perfect“. The funny thing I’ve noticed about perfectionism is that it’s suuuuuper sneaky. When it shows up it shows up as wanting to “make things better” or meeting a higher standard we’ve set for ourselves. It’s hard to recognize and after struggling with this new tendency for a couple of years now I blame it on two things.

The first reason I believe this is showing up for me now is past success. One would think that success would make you more confident in who you are and what you do, and to some extent that’s true but I’ve also found that it’s made me more fearful in some ways too. The success I’ve experienced in my career as an entrepreneur has set a new standard for myself that makes me afraid of falling short. I’ve heard best-selling authors explain this in a way that’s easy to understand. When an author writes a book that becomes a hit, a New York Times bestseller let’s say, they are both thrilled and fearful. Fearful because as soon as the joy sets in, there’s a little voice that comes uninvited to the party that says,

“could you ever do this again or was it a fluke?”

If you could never write another bestseller are you a  one-hit-wonder? Success can bread fear. Fear that it was an accident, that we’re really not worth the achievement, etcetera. I believe this is one of the reasons perfectionism is showing up for me now. Straight up fear that this next venture won’t be successful so perfectionism is my constant companion telling me I need to do better, be better if this is going to work.

The second reason I believe it’s showing up is because this is a personal brand. In all my past business ventures there was some separation between me, Jess Dennis and the business simply because the business wasn’t named after me and wasn’t a direct extension of who I am. Every business an entrepreneur starts or purchases is important to them. You’ll hear entrepreneurs refer to businesses as their “babies” and equate entrepreneurship to giving birth and raising a baby, I talk about this idea in my book. But there’s something different when the business is a personal brand. It becomes harder to separate yourself from the business. Perfectionism started showing up when I began to put myself and my experience out there with Balanced Entrepreneur.

So back to the podcast… Here’s what Marie said that made me stop what I was doing and turn up the volume. She said,

“Perfectionism isn’t a set behavior. It really is a destructive way of thinking about yourself. When you make a mistake or if you fail or stumble, you don’t just feel disappointed in how you did, but in who you are.”

She went on to clarify her point by saying, “For all of us who have very high standards, we have to understand that we are not the work. We are not the website, we are not the program, we are not the podcast, we are not the graphic that we put out. This is an expression of us and there has to be a little bit of distance between those things.”

That hit me square between the eyes and was something I absolutely needed to hear in this season. I am not my work. Period. Never have been, never will be. I wrote the book based on past experiences and what I believe, but I am not the book. No matter how the book, the blog, the course, insert future project here … performs, it is not me and it is not you. Here’s where things get a little sticky, if the failure is not us, neither is the success. I’ve wrestled with this concept and continue to wrestle to this day. I love hearing praise for the book, it feels good to know it’s impacting people and playing a role in their journeys BUT I need to be super careful to not make that praise about me because I’m working super hard on not making the criticism about me either. One cannot be true if the other isn’t also true.

When we understand that we are not the works we put out into the world, but the work is intended to sharpen us and help us grow, we can kick perfectionism to the curb. Perfectionism wants us to believe that everything is a reflection of us. That if we succeed, we’re a success and if we fail, we’re a failure. Please hear me, that line of thinking is destructive and will prevent you from moving forward every single time. I know, because I’m living it and the only way through it is to separate myself from the outcome and the work itself.

The absolute truth is when you’re trying anything new, it will be messy. You will not know what you’re doing and you will make lots and lots of mistakes. This is how we grow and how we learn. You can absolutely have high standards for yourself, I know I do, but these high standards don’t need to leave you stuck and bogged down by perfectionism. The best path I’m learning through this dangerous, destructive path is to remember that I am enough just as I am. I am not my achievements or my failures and neither are you.

For the podcast: https://www.amyporterfield.com/2019/08/marief/

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