Recently I was sitting with a friend — who is a published author — over yet another cup of some caffeinated beverage, complaining for the umpteenthtime about perfectionism holding me back in my writing when she bluntlysaid, “Your perfectionism is just procrastination.”
I had never heard this.
At first, I was a little insulted because I don’t see myself as a procrastinator.
I usually get shit done and quickly.
I’ve known procrastinators, and I didn’t think the label was a fair description of me.
However, to her point, I had been putting off sharing my writing for a long time, because, it wasn’t perfect.
I wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t right. I needed to take more classes, get an MFA — I’m still considering this– brush up on my grammar, find an editor, write 1000 words a day for a year straight without missing a day, publish a book. No, I was not good enough yet to post online or start a blog or write for other publications.
This friend is a close friend of mine. I respect and value her opinion. I pressed her to explain what she meant by procrastination hiding behind perfectionism. She said, “You know. Perfectionism is just a fear of failing crouched in procrastination. I have the same problem. I have a ton of written content to share, but haven’t because it just isn’t perfect yet.’
When I searched my soul, I realized my friend was right.
I was scared. I was hiding behind my self-diagnosed label of perfectionist — striving for excellence — because it sounds better than I’m just not getting anything done because I’m (fill in the blank).
But I was just scared.
I was so afraid of falling flat on my face; I couldn’t take the first step.
The fear of failure was holding me back from doing something I love to do — write.
I marinated in her words about procrastination for a good 20 to 30 days, thinking about her comment every day, especially while I was writing.
Her words hit a nerve and stayed with me for at least a month until I came to terms with the truth. I’m a procrastinator when it comes to my writing.
Those words she so honestly gifted me reveled myself. And because I couldn’t shake the truth of them, I had to change how I thought about my perfectionism.
Going forward, I reframed perfectionism as procrastination. I decided to change the narrative from perfectionist to procrastinator. And I was not going to be a procrastinator.
I posted my first story on my blog within a month of my friend’s procrastinator comment, and I haven’t stopped posting since. It was the kick in the butt I needed.
Jumping in and sharing my work publicly and not just on my laptop has cured me of perfectionism in the one area of my life where it was short-changing me. I have used this platform to grow as a writer. If I can, you can too.
Perfectionists have high expectations. In my mind, it was better to *not* do something at all than to have done it, and it *not* be done right or perfectly.
I was allowing a fixed mindset to stop me before I even started. This mindset — some refer to it as writer’s block — will stifle a creative person’s writing, and is a sure-fire way to stop you from fulfilling your dreams.
While perfectionists are often very detailed oriented and organized and plan ahead, we often put off tasks we don’t feel thoroughly competent doing. We often feel like things are never “ready” and can be self-critical.
- Fear of commitment
- Fear of getting started
- Fear of making a mistake — stops us from taking risks and trying new things.
- Spends an excessive amount of time researching, planning, and organizing (Me, me, me).
While planning, researching, and organizing all have their place in the creative process, all represent motion and not necessarily action. Action creates results over motion.
Organizing and learning can become a substitute for taking action.
Another way this idea of motion vs. action was manifesting in my life was in the signing up for 100’s of blogging tutorials, seminars and online writing courses instead of figuring it out for myself through actual doing.
Sometimes, you have to jump in and do it to create real action.
Reading a plethora of essays on how to be a successful writer, while helpful, is not nearly as effective as becoming a writer on who puts herself "out there," which anyone can do. The best way to learn how to navigate the ins and outs of writing and becoming a writer, is, to start writing.
As a recovering perfectionist, I can tell you that a perfectionist will look for and find any number of reasons not to start at all, and this is what my friend so bluntly told me.
First off keep in mind without taking the first step, you will never be able to accomplish those big dreams you have. Learn how to reframe the way you view mistakes, or the imaginary ‘fails’ you make up in your head of all the things that can go wrong.
There are no mistakes, only lessons
Think of mistakes as lessons, work on having a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset.
A growth mindset views a mistake as a lesson. Without mistakes, we do not learn to do things better the next time — there’s room for growth.
Action is the antidote to fear. The more you start taking action, the easier it becomes.
Start with something small, like posting your writing here on News Break, and then the larger steps, like staring your own business, won’t seem so scary.
Strategies for overcoming fear and perfectionism
Set firm deadlines. Setting firm deadlines can help cure perfectionism.
I set a firm deadline of posting on News Break once a day, and have an accountability partner for my writing. I have to check in with my accountability partner daily to let him know I have completed at least one hour of writing a day. When I don’t check-in, my accountability partner checks in with me.
I set a hard deadline in my editorial calendar that I have no choice but to meet. One post on News Break per day for 30 days. I made this experiment public to keep myself honest and accountable. This challenging deadline motivated me so much so that I added another 30 days to it, making it a total of 60 days.
Having a hard/fixed deadline, a date that is not too far out (less than a week) and more “real,” will make it more likely you stick to the deadline.
Posting one post per day or five per week or three per day — whatever works for you — is a clear deadline, making it easy to stick with, making your goals more attainable.
A conscious mind shift.
Reframing perfectionism as procrastination was a game-changer for me. Once I mindfully reframed my thinking, I haven’t allowed procrastination to hold me back, and have cured the need for perfectionism in my writing.
Thanks to my friend’s wise words, I haven’t held myself back with the excuse, it’s not perfect, since.