Pamela Wilson

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How to Get Past Perfection Paralysis and Start Seeing Results

Over the years, I’ve coached dozens of business owners.

I love it. Together, we identify what’s holding them back. Then over time, we work to chip away at their challenges.

People who work with me over several months make very tangible progress in their businesses. It’s gratifying to watch and I’m honored to help.

But there’s a problem.

Client after client, this one issue keeps coming up

It’s a particular challenge that haunts business owners. And it has begun to bother me enough that I knew I needed to write about it.

Whether you’re just starting out or have an established business that you’re working to grow, chances are you’ve been held back because of the same issue.

Business owners suffer from a specific type of paralysis that makes moving forward nearly impossible. I call it “Perfection Paralysis.”

Perfect Paralysis sucks. It’s a continuous loop of thoughts that runs through your head and keeps you stuck where you are.

Today, we’re going to attack Perfection Paralysis head on, together. Ready?

First, I should tell you that next year, I’ll celebrate 30 years in the business world, and 25 years with my own business.

I have been around the block. More than once. 😉

Business has been one of the great teachers in my life. It has pushed me to:

  • Become more disciplined than I ever thought possible
  • Learn skills I didn’t ever think I’d master
  • Get past my introverted tendencies and learn to love interacting with people, both online and in person

It has taught me to be brave in the face of an uncertain outcome.

And that, my friends, is the key to conquering Perfection Paralysis.

Let’s take those looping thoughts, tease them out one by one, and look at them. I want you to become brave about them, too.

You won’t know what to do, and that’s OK

Wouldn’t it be nice if starting a business looked like this?

  1. You decide to start a business
  2. You go to the library to borrow the How to Run a Business manual (there’s only one)
  3. You follow the steps in the manual and everything works out exactly as predicted

You can stop laughing now!

Of course that’s not how things work. And between you and me, it would be kind of boring if they worked like that, wouldn’t it?

Instead, we need to feel our way along to the answers. They’re not delivered to us in a manual: we have to figure them out for ourselves.

This is a gift.

Because when you’re doing the heavy lifting yourself, you own your success 100%.

And yes, you own your failure, too.

You won’t be sure your plan will work, and that’s OK

You make an educated guess about your next move. And then, you close your eyes and step off into the abyss.

Because in business, there’s no such thing as a sure bet. (Anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something — I guarantee it).

You can force Perfection Paralysis into submission by repeating the following phrase:

“Business is a big experiment. Let’s see what happens!”

Approaching business like this — as a playground where you’ll try different things to see which one works — helps you to embrace the process and not get too attached to the outcome.

You won’t ever know if you’ve done the exact right thing, and that’s OK

Results will come in, and you’ll still feel unsure.

Even when your launch is a big hit, you’ll wonder if you made all the right calls.

And that’s OK.

It’s a sign that you care. That you’re observing and reacting to reality. That even though the decision is made, the project is out there, and the launch is over, you’re still paying attention.

The harsh reality: you’ll never know for sure (and that’s OK, too)

You won’t know for sure if you did all you could. And that’s OK.

This is just the way business works!

I am convinced that how you respond when Perfection Paralysis rears its ugly head is one of the most-important factors in your ultimate success.

Perfection Paralysis happens to all of us. One of the reasons I wanted to write this was to give it a name.

Things are less scary when we know how to identify them, right?

How to be OK with “The Not Knowing”

Here’s the thing: to make it in business, you have to be not just brave but comfortable with uncertain outcomes.

In a mastermind group I once belonged to, we used to call this “The Not Knowing.”

“The Not Knowing” is a feeling in your gut that’s a mix of fear, worry, and repetitive thoughts that keep you stuck. It’s the physical and emotional manifestation of Perfection Paralysis.

Ironically, the way to get past this feeling is to expect it. To accept it when you see it. And to embrace it as part of the process of making decisions and moving forward with your business.

Suffering from Perfection Paralysis? Let’s talk.

If this post resonates with you, you may have suffered through your own case of Perfection Paralysis.

I want to hear about it! What happened, and how did you get past it?

Pamela Wilson

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18 thoughts on “How to Get Past Perfection Paralysis and Start Seeing Results”

  1. Wow! The timing for this post Pamela is UNCANNY! I was just looking at the 8th draft of a newsletter. LOL. I also loved hearing from you on video! Really engaging way to begin the article. Thank you!

    • Hi Melinda,

      Get that newsletter out! You can do it. 🙂

      Thanks so much for your comment. I may start doing a bit more video: it’s a great way to connect and is so much easier to do than it used to be.

  2. Pamela,

    Great article. I couldn’t agree more.

    As a slight variation on the perfection theme, I ran into a problem with wanting to have my business project complete before I took it to market. Maybe that was my form of needing perfection. I was developing my http://www.howtofeelfantastic.com website to help people with depression, anxiety, and stress.

    I kept delaying things because “I didn’t have it all done yet.” Then Steven Adam, a friend, colleague, and startup consultant told be me that, like most others, I was doing it wrong. He recommended reading “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries.

    Ries’s concept of minimal viable product (MVP) really helped me get over my delaying and launch the site with my new mindset of “it will never be done as it’s always a work in progress”.

    Thanks for your good work Pamela. I bought your Beautiful Typography program on font selection and it’s been very helpful. It’s been good to work on not finding the “perfect” font combination. 🙂

    • Steven sounds like a smart guy.

      I’m a big believer in MVPs, too. Websites (and online business in general) are particularly well-suited to this approach: you can track results easily and update by simply re-publishing content. You have a beautiful site! I’m glad you got it out in the world: you’re offering important information.

      I’m glad Beautiful Typography was helpful, too: thanks for letting me know.

  3. Perfection Paralysis – the story of my life!!!
    Here is my approach to what is I think a very common issue, particularly w creative people:

    1. Remind yourself that the talent that you are blessed with (and to which your customers are attracted) doesn’t exactly belong to you. Rather it was given to you as a gift. The Gift only comes with two strings attached.
    1. You have an obligation to develop and refine that gift to the very best of your ability.
    2. You have an obligation to share it with the world.

    Focus on these points and your own insecurities tend to dissipate.

    2. Remind yourself that there is actually a huge market for perfectionists. Why do you think customers are happy to pay $200,000. for a new Ferrari? Or $100,000 for a new dressing room? Because they are after perfection, and you just may be the cat that supplies it.

    Let’s Roll!!!

    Thks Pamela – great article

  4. Thank you, again. You always find my need.

    I’ve been actively involved in this iteration of my consulting business for eighteen years. I still have times of paralysis. Most recently, I have had to give up an entire market and start anew in a smaller market.

    The paralysis has made some of this transition slower than it needed to be, but I have expanded and changed my offerings and my potential markets. I changed to AWeber yesterday as a way of getting off the dime and moving forward. Doing SOMETHING!

    It’s not perfect, but it’s mine.

    • That’s a great attitude, Chet.

      And it will never be perfect. (What does that even mean?) Business is a work in progress, always. That’s part of the fun.

  5. Thanks Pamela for writing this – it’s like it was written for me! I really like “looking at running a business as an experiment”. This hints at a continuing process, and that I can make changes along the way – so I don’t have to get it right the first time. This point is the basis of my “perfection paralysis” – I feel like if I don’t get it right the first time I do something, I’d have to retrace my steps, redo the whole thing – and that this will cause a giant waste of time! And I’d be so frustrated. BUT in the past I have wasted time researching things to death and not starting!! And was frustrated at my lack of progress. It does seem like it would be better to ‘waste time’ by actually doing than by being frozen by uncertainty. Another reason I want to thank you is that I’m not doing it right once I get it right – I think that being a perfectionist at my core, I need to constantly and consciously move forward against my natural tendency, and I do have times when I lapse back into hesitation and inaction. I’ll leave this tab open as a reminder to kick my butt back into gear if I find myself stalled out again!

    • So glad to read this comment, Kevin. As you can read here, this topic resonated with more than one person, so you are definitely not alone. It’s a super common challenge!

      I’m really glad the post was helpful. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Great post, Pamela. Thanks. I am just starting to turn the material on my website into a book! And yes, it is all about not knowing, all about trying one thing after another. I copied your statement about the playground and I will put it at the top of the page every morning when I start writing.

    • I’m glad it resonated, Laraine! And I’m honored that you’d want to save a quote: thank you. 🙂

  7. I suffer from this malady as well.

    I’m usually good at keeping it under wraps at work and not letting it mess with my deadlines too much.

    I am forcing myself to hand in a large project tomorrow afternoon. It is two weeks past due due to perfection paralysis!

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