Why Perfectionism is Paralyzing

I was born a perfectionist. Which absolutely sucks when there is something I need to get done, but trying to make it “perfect” is holding me back from even getting started. The earliest memory I have of being a perfectionist is when I was in the Head Start Program. For those of you who do not know what that is, Head Start is a preschool program to better prepare youth going into kindergarten. The teacher gave us instructions to cut a circle out of red construction paper. There was an outline of the circle already drawn on the paper and all we had to do was cut on the dotted line to complete the class assignment. I do not remember if I was in a rush to finish it or what, but half-way through cutting out my circle, I ripped it. I was devastated. Everybody else had perfect circles and there I was with a rip in mine. I started crying. I was so upset about it that I asked other kids to turn in my ripped circle for me. The teacher (the wise woman she was) kept sending my circle back to me. She wanted me to take responsibility for my work and turn the circle in myself. Well I finally turned it in…with my own heart feeling ripped. The next day the teacher put our circles on the wall for everyone to see. Guess what? To my surprise, you could barely tell I had ripped it. I was soooo relieved about that. Unfortunately, my perfectionist ways have stayed with me to this day.

There are two things I want to point out here. The first is this…when something or anything happens in pursuit of a goal, it’s a person’s perception that defines it. Yes, I ripped my circle but my perception made it way worse than what it was. I put myself in an unnecessary negative emotional state over some construction paper.

The second is that perfectionism halts progress. There have been times when I began working towards something, it wasn’t going right or something went wrong and instead pushing forward…I stopped. It’s another excuse to quit. Just like I did with my little red circle. I did not want to turn it in, which I had to do to complete my assignment. I stopped and pouted.

It took me a long time to learn that nothing is perfect or is going to be perfect. Sometimes I will look at other people’s lives (my first mistake) and see where they are and they seem to have it all together. Part of me wants to believe that everything lined up for them in a perfect way to get to where they are. The other part of me really knows the truth…their ascension was not perfect.

I was reminded of this a few months ago when I spoke with a friend I ran track with in college. If one were to look at his Facebook page, you would think he is living the life. A great business, travelling all the time, living in Las Vegas and posting about deals he is making with various big businesses. I asked him to tell me his story of going from working with a financial institution to building a business in manufacturing. My friend told me a crazy horror story that made the little fine hairs on my back rigid. It was obstacle, after obstacle after obstacle of twists and turns of creating a business, becoming an owner, losing the business, dealing with shady partners, losing all his money, being sued, sleeping in his truck and starting all over again. It has been a hell of a ride for him.

There were some things in his personal life that were falling apart at the time as well, but through all of that…he never stopped. He went on for about 40 minutes straight and I was at a loss for words. I called him to get inside his head of how he gets things done and what he thought was the most important aspects of accomplishing goals. His answer was a simple one (as I am finding out more and more these days). He said, “Just start. It will never go the way you think it will, no matter how much you plan, there will be something that will get in your way or make you think you are not good enough and can’t do it. Just start, don’t think about it too much and figure it out along the way”.

I told him about what I was getting into (lead generation for a consulting company) and he just said, “Well, I know YOU can do it because I watched you do shit that I thought was impossible. Just don’t sit on your ass. When you don’t feel like doing anything, keep going. When shit start falling apart, keep going.” At the time my friend had just closed a big deal that earned him a little over $600k and was negotiating another deal with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Sometimes I can’t get out of my own head about things I want to do and wanting to do everything right. I have learned from both my successes and my failures as I know they are both essential in moving me towards my goals. I had to ask myself what keeps me static? What keeps me from just getting shit done? I came up with a list. Tell me if any of these are familiar to you.

1. Lack of focus. Trying to do too many things at once which divides my attention to the point I do not give attention to anything.

2. Wanting it to be “perfect”. If everything was perfect we would never take the opportunity to learn, grow and evolve.

3. Lack of faith in myself. No one is good at anything when they first try something. We become better and increase our faith the more we do the thing.

4. No planning or piss poor planning. Having a plan to follow can keep a person on course for their goal. It can also help one to measure progress and change when needed.

5. Using the excuse of “I need to learn everything about this before I start . This is another perfectionist way of thinking.

It is amazing how many things come into our heads that keeps us stuck in in one place or paralyzes our movement in the direction our hearts are pulling us in. Take this blog post for example. This is my first one on Medium and I wanted it to be perfect. I know deep down how foolish this is because it kept me from writing the post for almost two freakin’ weeks! I am starting a new journey in which I will be blogging about my progress into writing more, doing some side hustles to earn more money for my family and live a more fulfilling life.

Finally, I did have to look at myself objectively ask, “Do I want to put myself through the ups and downs of working towards this new goal I have?” Yes, I do, but I must learn to love the process of getting to the goal. I must learn to love the actual work it takes (it may be a LOT of work) to get to the goal. It may be a struggle but…

“Without struggle, there is no progress”, Fredrick Douglas

It may also be a joy to fully commit 100% to something I believe in.

Please leave your comments below and let me know what keeps you static or not moving forward with your goals. Or if you have figured out how to “just do it” tell me and let’s start a conversation. You can follow me on twitter @ThaviusJ and on Linkedin at linkedin.com/in/thaviusjnelson.


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