Redefining Success: Perfectionism as only one tool of many (Part II)

We are multifaceted beings, but we can lose sight of that when one aspect of our personalities or identities becomes dominant. One place this can become a serious problem is in the case of perfectionism and our definition of success.

Perfectionism can be a useful aspect of ourselves. Being extremely picky about the quality of our work can make our work shine. However, perfectionism tends to be a tyrant when we identify it as our entire way of being and when we don’t know how or when to rein it in. In other words, I can spend an extra hour or two fine-tuning an important presentation, but when that level of scrutiny and criticism starts to invade my down time or won’t let me stop working when I really need to be done, it is more like a cancer to the spirit than a cure for dreaded mediocrity. It does not always stay within useful bounds and seems greedy to infiltrate areas where it does not serve us.

When I say to myself, “I am a perfectionist,” the limitation here is in believing that is all that I am. The thing we need to do to counteract this is to notice that there is a part of us that can observe the perfectionist. That part, that observer, is a part that may also be able to identify other parts of us. What are your other parts? Are you also playful? Creative? Able to be present to others? Take a moment to list some of the other aspects of yourself that might be at play in your life and might have a useful role in how you define success. 

Success looks really different through the eyes of a creative process or a playful process or a mundane/rote process. For example, if I’m brainstorming for a novel, success may be several pages of scribbled notes, with only a few useful ideas, but those ideas are the writing gold that will serve as the first stage of my writing project. If I want to spend time with my son, it’s clearly more successful to me if we’ve had a fun time and gotten done some of our tasks than if we’ve checked off everything but not had an emotionally connected time. And there are, of course, some things that don’t deserve the level of intensity that tyrannical perfectionism insists upon: cleaning the toilet, sweeping floors, raking the yard. Good enough is truly success in those situations.

Not every process benefits from the scrutiny of perfectionism, and it’s not always a useful tool to pick up. My coaching question for the client who struggles with perfectionism is this: which tool would they like to pick up at any given point? If perfectionism is the best tool to serve your goals, then by all means, use it. However, there are many other tools in your tool bag, and you can always gain more of them. Allow yourself to get into Master Carpenter mode, where all the tools can be used to their greatest potential, rather than relying solely on the hammer of perfectionism. Success does not lie in crushing everything under the pounding of unrealistic expectations; it lies in employing the right approach to the right problem.

Step back. Look at the many aspects of your personality and the tools you possess. Which ones will you employ, and where will you do so? How does success look different when you employ more than one tool? 


Rigorous Time Tracking…sort of

This will be a short post.

You know all those New Year’s resolutions you’re breaking by now? Well, my time tracking has not been quite as rigorous as it was in the beginning.

First, my son had a violent stomach flu, and we both lost a night of sleep over it. Two days’ later, I got the same bug. We were both largely out of commission last week.

And then, I remembered that I had a provision for this. See, I knew it was impossible to catch everything I did in my time tracking. I knew at some point, I would fail to capture something because of sickness or some crisis or higher priority. But my husband reminded me from the beginning that even snapshots give more information than no tracking at all. My good friend, Lauryl, who is the Queen of Tracking, reminded me that capturing three days’ activities in a week was better than none. 

So last week, I captured some information. I wrote down activities almost every day. I have more information than I would have had before. In my next post, I’ll share what I learned in a week of imperfect time tracking!

Biggest blocks to writing: Procrastination, Perfectionism, Fear & Overwhelm (Part I)

I coach writers on a daily basis. I know very well that  it’s important to know your goals, your genre, your audience; to build your brand, your website, your business model. It’s important to learn new skills and to organize your time. You have to market, network, set up our accounting systems, form our LLC or C-Corp or S-Corp. All of these things are great, and they’re critical to a functioning business of writing. And, of course, we need to do the actual writing! Most writers I work with, however, face the specters of their own inner workings as they attempt to accomplish the outer work. The first one we’ll look at together is procrastination (and in later posts, we’ll work with its roots: perfectionism, fear and overwhelm).

Procrastination is a great place to start. It’s the most visible, outward indication of our inner workings. We see it: it’s the Facebook page open in front of us instead of our word processing. It’s the load of laundry in our arms instead of our laptop. It’s the email we’re staring at instead of our task list.

We can find a lot of advice about time management on the internet and in books. Those tools are all helpful, but they often sidestep the fact that the roots of procrastination go beyond those tools: those tools attempt to chop the head off the dandelions, when we need to dig out their source from the bottom-up.

Some key questions to ask ourselves about our procrastination follow. Take time with them (now!). You have to understand the weed and its nature before you can effectively destroy it:

1. What do I procrastinate on? Make a list. Notice if it’s just the dreaded stuff of your life, or if it also includes the positive, life-affirming stuff. Get to know yourself here.

2. What is the cost to me of procrastinating in these areas of my business and life? Write it down. If you want to change something, you have to find your motivation for doing so. If the costs add up to more than you’re willing to pay, you’ll have the motivation you need to change them.

3. What would my life look like if I didn’t procrastinate in these areas? This question often leads to some interesting information. Yes, your life might be more peaceful – but would it also be a little boring? Yes, you might move at a more steady pace, but is the shot of adrenaline you’re getting from last-minute work covering your underlying fatigue?  Would you be unable to work without it?

Now ask yourself one more question, and answer it honestly: is this something I want to change, or am I happy enough, productive enough with it in place? If the answer is that you’re fine enough, don’t go any further. It’s not always the time to fix everything, and if it’s working for you, why change? Just because someone, somewhere thinks you should isn’t a reason enough to do the hard work of changing habits and their causes.

If you do want to change, and you’re ready to do the work, it’s time to look at the roots. Our next topic will cover perfectionism, one of the most common roots of procrastination.