Perfection is a myth. But, more than that, it’s a trap. Many creative entrepreneurs are in constant pursuit of “perfection,” which is nothing more than a made-up perception of how we can get others to like us. So if perfection doesn’t exist, expecting it from ourselves becomes a lifelong battle of self-esteem.
The cold, hard truth is that we will always fall short of perfection. It doesn’t matter how good you are at your job or how long you’ve been in business—reaching for perfection is a recipe for emotional burnout. Mistakes end up looking (and feeling) like insurmountable failures rather than opportunities to learn, improve, and grow as a business owner.
Breaking free from the perfection paradox starts and ends with the goals and expectations you set for yourself. Too often, we rely on the judgment of others to tell us if we’re “good enough.” We soak in the praise and bristle at the criticisms, letting other people define our self-worth.
But enough is enough. You cannot control the actions of others, nor can you govern time and weather. The only thing you can control is yourself. Setting goals and expectations around anything beyond your control will set you up for disappointment, whether it’s a flawlessly-timed wedding or a glowing testimonial from a customer.
If you’re ready to liberate yourself from the fool’s game of seeking perfection, follow these techniques to let go and enjoy the freedom of accepting (and embracing!) imperfection.
Practice healthy detachment
Most people would love to give up criticism's hold over them, but to get there, you must also let go of the need for praise. Praise and criticism are two sides of the same coin, and expecting either sets you up for failure. Instead, set attainable standards for yourself that signify you’re doing an excellent job. It’s not about the effusive gratitude from a customer or a generous tip but about meeting benchmarks you have full control over. Remember: You can achieve success and do amazing things, even if no one is there to congratulate you at every turn.
Give grace to your team
As you learn to embrace imperfection, extend the same compassion to your team. Don’t expect perfection from your staff. Employees are human beings, so treat them as such! Unrealistic expectations are demoralizing and fuel negative self-talk. They can also create an environment where team members hide imperfections instead of seeking solutions. You can have high standards while still leaving room for mistakes, fostering a culture of transparency, growth, and improvement.
Set realistic expectations with clients
Part of your role as a service provider is to educate clients about your processes and set expectations for your work together. You are the expert, so be clear about what is and isn’t possible. Walk them through supply chain delays, weather conditions, and other unexpected challenges that may arise, offering solutions for each. Remind them that “perfection” doesn’t exist, but that’s not to say they won’t get what they want. Unrealistic expectations produce bridezillas and groomzillas, so be sure to nip their desire for perfection in the bud early on.
Avoid taking criticism personally
It might sound easier said than done, but try to receive information and feedback without turning it into an emotional exchange. For instance, if a customer expresses disappointment, turn it into a constructive discussion and work towards a solution together. Perhaps there isn’t a solution, so you may need to renegotiate the terms of your agreement. Either way, nothing good comes about when feedback is shrouded in emotions. Keep in mind that most people don’t enjoy conflict with others, so a healthy resolution is always the best answer!
Releasing yourself from praise and criticism is an exercise in mindset, and it requires you to understand—and accept—that you can do a great job without external validation. Likewise, you must learn to identify opportunities for improvement without criticism. So remove the word “perfection” from your vocabulary and start adjusting your perspective to appreciate your output, not others’ input.