This is my eighth post on ASmithBlog, and I am feeling rather proud of this accomplishment. What I have learned over the last year-and-a-half of writing books and blogging is that putting words to paper can be incredibly fulfilling and utterly frustrating at the same time. I have also discovered that I’m not the only one who feels this way. I have attended seminars where the writing process has been likened to puking on paper and smearing around the mess until it looks good. Other authors have used the more graphic metaphor of pouring one’s own blood into their work. Although a little dramatic for my taste, these images attest to the messiness and agony of the writing process.
These descriptions stay fresh in my mind as I transcribe my thoughts to paper because they remind me that I am normal. Communication, whether verbal, written, or done through other artistic means, can be excruciatingly frustrating at times, and it becomes even more frustrating if one has perfectionist tendencies. For a perfectionist, no work is ever complete. There are always improvements to be made. Because of this, perfectionists are often guilty of:
- Not starting on projects, because they believe that no idea is ever good enough.
- Not sharing their ideas with others, because no project is ever complete.
- Not advancing the projects they do share, because the next project will be better.
Yet, these perfectionist ideals are disservices to those who hold them, as well as to everyone else. I know, because I am a perfectionist who is on a mission to break up with perfectionism. If you’re someone who has a message to share but has held back, telling yourself that you will contribute your ideas to the world “someday,” then this simple trick that I am learning to use to push through my own rigid tendencies may be helpful for you.
As a therapist, I engage in a lot of conversations with others about self-talk, or the conversations that silently go on inside of our heads. Self-talk is sneaky and often occurs outside of our awareness. For perfectionists, there is an ongoing chatterbox inside of our heads that say:
- This work isn’t good enough.
- Your next idea will be better.
- Just look how good everyone else’s presentations are.
- You don’t really want to embarrass yourself by sharing this, do you?
One simple key to overcoming this type of negative self-talk that works for me has been to remind myself that, “something is almost always better than nothing”. That phrase is so powerful, it’s worth repeating.
Something is almost always better than nothing.
As a college professor, I’ve had students pass my class by consistently turning in mediocre work, yet I have never had a student pass that didn’t turn in work at all. As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve had average days as a therapist. Days where I wish I had been more attentive and knowledgeable, yet those days are precisely what have allowed me to learn, grow, and mature in my craft. For the majority of us, if we only showed up to work on days when we were on our A-game, not only would we have missed out on some important learning opportunities, we would also have taken so much time off work that we would be unemployed.
The words and phrases we use when we silently talk to ourselves are some of the most powerful moments of communication that you and I engage in. The next time you find yourself delaying a project because you are walking hand-in-hand with perfectionism, I would encourage you to quickly let go by reminding yourself that “something is better than nothing” and then:
- Get started on the project.
- Publish your work.
- Learn from the experience.
- Improve along the way.
Perhaps your work is only mediocre, but if it’s the best work that you can do right now, then mediocre is just fine. Much has been written about failing forward in life. No one is born a success. Triumph comes with practice and the only way to become a good communicator is to start communicating right where you’re at.
Practice leads to experience, and experience leads to improvement.
Have you ever forced yourself to get started on a project in spite of self-doubt and were glad you did? If so, then you likely know the power of breaking up with perfectionism and getting stuff done!