Perfection Is the Enemy of Progress

When I was in a corporate setting I was afraid I would make a mistake. My identity was so wrapped up in the idealist, perfectionist view I had created for myself that I procrastinated on everything. I would coach my teams to “not let perfect get in the way of better,” but I wouldn’t always practice this myself. I feared judgment, criticism, and most of all being terminated because I was imperfect. This didn’t just show up in my career. My inadequacy and insecurity often paralyzed me and held me back in so many dimensions of my life.

I am passionate about process improvement, encourage others to take risks and move quickly, forgive others’ mistakes easily, and have no problem when others take action, learn, adjust, then follow up with more action. I just couldn’t do the same myself. It was a struggle to move into action. My corporate career hit a crescendo as an operations executive in a $350MM energy company, and finally crashed and burned when my entire life became paralyzed because of my inability to consistently move forward at the pace required. My crash was driven by inadequacy and insecurity which drove the impossibility of reaching perfection.

When I decided to stop searching for another position in corporate, I decided to start my own business. When I launched my business I was told that nothing in the world would grow me as much as embracing an entrepreneurial lifestyle. I was also told that I would need to launch many offerings to learn what the market desired from me, move before I was prepared, make lots of mistakes, adjust, and continue this process over and over on the way up. I was also advised that if I didn’t follow this route, my entrepreneurial ventures would crash and burn just like my corporate career.

Because of this advice, I made my first offer to create a training session for a business owner without having anything prepared, closed my first sale, and delivered the training. From that single training, I signed two one-on-one clients, and this was the start of my coaching business. I took action before I was ready, I delivered without massive amounts of practice and adjusted that same training for the next time. My business grew rapidly, and I signed a whole array of private coaching clients.

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About a year into my new career I hired an operations manager. I slid all of my prepared content across the table – hundreds of pages of workbooks and training – so that she could see what I had created. Up to this point I had not used any of the content. I am a content creating a machine, but I was too fearful to share with anyone because I knew it wasn’t perfect. It was not edited or deemed final. Because of my inadequacy or insecurity, I’m not sure if I would have ever used any of the content. I just kept it hidden until someone else I trusted would review it.
My operations manager looked at all the content and said: “we’ve got a course here!”

“We do?” I said with surprise and a hint of excitement.

“We’ll put this module first, then this module, then this module…” and she went on to compile a full course with what was already created.

In shock, I asked, “Do you think it’s good enough?”

“It’s plenty good,” she replied immediately.

“Do we need to edit it?” I asked fearing for a reply.

“No. We’ll let the students edit it for us,” she responded with certainty.

Over the coming weeks, she put together the course details, description, and delivery method. We announced the “pilot program” for my new Life-Mastery course about two weeks after our first discussion, and made sure prospects knew that they would be part of the fine-tuning process. We priced it a pilot-level and announced to the prospects that the price for the second iteration of the course would double. We targeted 12 students and filled every seat.

During the pilot course we solicited feedback, students pointed out holes and gaps in the curriculum, content, and how we could improve the experience. We made changes immediately, implemented improvements, and during the pilot we announced the second launch at a price double the first. The pilot students were excited to be part of the improvements, and we made sure to inform them of the changes we were making because of their feedback. At the end of the pilot we sent out feedback forms, and the feedback was amazing! We launched an imperfect offering, communicated the imperfections, solicited feedback, and made changes along the way. Our students’ lives shifted because of the course and our business grew as well. Everyone won because we launched, learned, and adjusted.

Today the course has been modified from its original form and is even more powerful. It keeps getting better because I was able to overcome the need to be perfect. I have launched an Entrepreneurial-Mastery course in the same manner, and students created powerful shifts because of that content as well. Entrepreneurism will grow you more than any other aspect of life. It drives you to step out in uncertainty and create certainty along the way. This takes embracing imperfection as part of the journey toward learning what works and what does not. An entrepreneur can’t learn or make a sale by creating a business plan, building programs, or sitting on the sidelines.

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If you are reading this you are growth-oriented and desire to expand your life’s circumstances. To create the life you desire, you must be willing to lose the parts of your life story and identity that created those current circumstances. Perfectionism is driven by inadequacy and insecurity – and those traits can cause you to shrink from challenges in life which will serve you and bring you what you desire. But you must be willing to overcome your need to get it right all the time. That is impossible. Just embrace imperfect as the perfect state.

My need for perfection ultimately ended my corporate career. Thank the heavens. So for that, I am thankful. There was a benefit to my desire to show up perfectly – it enabled and empowered failure and made me start over. I expect to fail at least 3 times per day from now on. I’ve learned and grown more from failure than I ever have from success. If you’re not failing you’re not trying. If you’re not adjusting and remaining persistent you’ll never succeed. And success is the greatest way to create more opportunities to failure. Imperfection is the way to all you desire!

Have you read the original anthology that was the catalyst for The Good Men Project? Buy here: The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood

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