Last week was the first time I missed my self-imposed deadline of posting one article per week every Wednesday.
I can hardly say I was surprised. I had been progressively cutting it thin as the weeks went by. For my first few articles, I would finish them a few days ahead of the deadline. Then it became the night before. And then it became the morning of. Then a few minutes before. Naturally, it was a matter of time before I completely missed it.
What made the experience more unpleasant was the fact that I had a meeting on the very same day for which I had to travel two hours to get to. The last time this happened, I managed to finish my article within that two-hour car ride.
This time, my brain froze and every word I typed into my word processor sounded better if they didn’t exist at all. I panicked as the meeting time drew nearer. I considered writing a short topic on something completely different, but anything I manage to come up with within the hour would not be a good article.
It was some time in the middle of the meeting did I finally give up and say to myself, “I’d rather post something of good quality than waste people’s time reading something subpar.”
I felt miserable for a while but after a few hours (and some food), the disappointment rolled off my shoulders like water and I felt a renewed sense of purpose. I wanted to be better.
That experience inspired this post which I would like to share with fellow perfectionist wannabes out there.
1. Your first slip up is like your first couple fight
It’s horrible and uncomfortable, but it means that you’ve reached a new milestone in your relationship. If two people who care about each other don’t fight about something, it means they’re not close enough to each other to get angry.
But how you fight is important, because at the end of the day, all you want is to be on the same page again, even if it means agreeing to disagree and drawing a new boundary which both parties should not cross under any circumstances (for example I will not bring up your relationship with your father without permission and you will not attack me by saying I am turning into my mother).
Imagine your goal as your partner and all you want is a long, successful period of being together. Slipping up is not breaking up. It does not necessarily mean your goal is not compatible for you. It can just mean that you’re having your first fight because you’re just getting intimate with the intricacies of achieving your goal.
If you love and believe in your goal enough, you will stop beating yourself up because the first thing you want is to get back on track. Of course you will try your best to not slip up again but you have to also accept that you’re human and humans do stupid things all the time.
Have your first slip up, forgive yourself and be happy you’ve hit your first milestone. Trust me, nothing makes a goal feel more real than your first slip up.
2. A slip up is the truest indication that you need to fix something
I am one of those people who work better and faster under pressure. It doesn’t mean I like it, but this dependency on the burst of inspiration and creativity under stress has made me complacent, despite it being an unreliable asset. Inspiration is a bitchy, fickle friend that is much like a cat. It comes when it feels like it. If it doesn’t want to, it doesn’t matter how much you beg and plead, all you’re going to get is a good view of the cat’s butt. That’s what happened to me last week. Cat’s butt.
I knew all along that my habits around writing needed fixing, but I was lazy and things were cruising along.
But there’s no denying a missed deadline.
Something needed to change. I found myself researching for more ways to be a better blogger and writer and I figured the best solution for now is to make my schedule more detailed. For now, I literally have ‘Post article on XYZ’ every Wednesday on my calendar.
What I need to do is to break down my writing process into smaller parts, like brainstorming, making a list, writing a first draft, writing a second draft, find the right images to accompany the post, sleep on it, reread post, write a third draft and set a specific time and date for each task.
It might or might not work, but at least I have a working plan on how to make myself better. If you’re beating yourself up for missing your target or deadline, you should be rejoicing instead. Not every problem so clearly presents itself to be fixed. Imagine having a hidden problem that doesn’t show itself until it’s too late to fix. A clear problem is a gift. Treat it as such.
3. Perfectionism is a prison
Imagine a club where every member is perfect. Everyone has perfect appearance, perfect job, perfect life, perfect goal execution, everything.
To be a part of this club, every single member has to be at peak performance at all times. If you perform even a few degrees below the best, the rule dictates that you have to punch yourself until you’re unconscious.
Now imagine a slip up as getting evicted from the Perfectionism Club. You scream and you kick and you leave a trail of nail marks in the perfect marble floor because you think the world outside is going to be so much worse. You want to be inside the club where everyone seems perfect all the time, even at the expense of punching yourself unconscious every once in a while. Everyone outside are basically losers and that has to hurt more, you think.
But once outside, you recognise the club for what it is – a mental prison where people regularly beat themselves up for being human. The longer you keep your perfect track record, the more agitated you become in trying to keep it up.
If you can clear your mind and see perfectionism for the prison that it is, you will find yourself a free person. A free person does not have to beat himself or herself up for human failings, no matter how stupid. A free person can make a mistake, shrug and say, “Oh well. Better day tomorrow.”
Beating yourself up is counterproductive. If I worry about posting perfect articles all the time, I wouldn’t be posting this article. If I don’t post this article, I would have missed my deadline. If I miss my deadline I would feel horrible about myself. Ain’t nobody got time for that. People in the prison of perfectionism do because their world is limited to the four walls they’ve built inside their minds and they have nothing better to do.
Slipping up is your key to freedom. Now go out there and be a real person.
4. You’re ingesting too much information
I typically research the things I’m interested in to death leading to analysis paralysis.
Sometimes just thinking about all the things I need to do to be a better writer and blogger, I get deathly afraid that I am none of those. So many thoughts run through my mind – that I am a fraud, that I will amount to nothing, that I have nothing to offer, that I am yet another person with no qualification offering unsolicited opinions online and getting lost in a sea of irrelevance.
And don’t get me started on the technical details of what I’m doing wrong with my website.
Then again, two months ago my website was relatively dead. But recently one person emailed me her thoughts about my post. An actual real person, not spam. I was amazed. My Facebook page engagement is slightly better. I see the same stranger liking a lot of my posts so I guess I can count that as a loyal follower. My website traffic is still small but it is steadily increasing week by week. Including this article, I already have 9 articles in my portfolio, all of them originally written by me averaging 3,000 – 4,000 words per article, not a rehash of some other posts. Google likes original content so it’s a matter time before my website starts showing up on search results.
Much like everything in this world, there are so many people offering advice on how to do things. If you find yourself trying to do a bit of everything, stop.
You do you.
No one can be good at everything so don’t beat yourself up for not being able to do things you’re not good at. I’m no brilliant marketer but I do love writing. I focus on what I’m good at so I can be better. When it comes to promoting my website, I take baby steps and celebrate every little small improvements I make to my website. So what if other people have 500,000 views on YouTube and you have 7? So what if someone else has 36 million followers on Instagram and you have 134? It’s not a race. Everyone has something good to give. Focus on yours and slowly upgrade your skills in other areas you’re not so good at without comparing yourself to other people.
5. You’re trying to be too good too fast
Many people fall into the trap of getting the best of everything when starting a new venture. You want to be a photographer, you blow a couple thousand on a DSLR. You want to be a travel writer, you immediately book trips all over the world. You want to start a restaurant, you rent a shop in an expensive location and buy expensive things to decorate your restaurant.
Unless you’ve been in the business for a while and already know what to do, this is never a good idea. For instance, I purchased a USD 1,000 second-hand Nordictrack commercial treadmill not on a whim, but because I know I will use it on most days. I was already physically active. And I still do use it. At least three times a week if not every day. For my health, it’s not an expensive purchase. It’s much better than paying USD 500,000 on hospital bills should I fall sick.
If you’re not that experienced, the best thing to do is to get by on the cheapest things. Investing in expensive things has a way of increasing your expectations on getting a good outcome but as with any venture, failure has to happen at some point. The higher your expectations, the harder you fall.
I know I’m a cheapskate, but that’s not why I encourage starting cheap. The thing about working with the most basic of things is that it encourages ingenuity through limitations.
Imagine producing a masterpiece with a cheap camera or cheap paint or cheap graphic tablet. Imagine owning a song on a cheap guitar or violin. Imagine cooking amazing food using cheap ingredients from cheap grocery stores.
Now imagine what you can do with your honed skills once the time comes to upgrade. All those tricks you learned while using cheap stuff? No expensive gadget can replace ingenuity.
It’s not about the money. It’s about taking the time to cultivate your skills before taking the next step like making a huge financial investment.
Expertise need time to be cultivated. Yes, some startups can grow 900% in the first few months and hit their 5-year target in 9 months. But no company can sustain such numbers in the long term. True success lies in consistency and sustainability.
Don’t try to be too good too fast.
You want to be good at being consistent. In the end that’s what people look for. A consistent, reliable presence. Nobody likes a restaurant that has good food for 5 months and then everything goes to shit. Nobody likes people who are nice for the first 3 months and then they turn out to be assholes later on.
I actually wrote something about going back to basics in this post. It’s about watercolour painting for beginners, but the principles remain the same. Start with basics and get creative.
If I were trying to get too good too fast, I’d be posting one article every day of the week. And I know many successful bloggers who recommend this and actually do this successfully. But I know that’s not sustainable, not with the kind of thought I put into my articles. In the future I might consider guest posts but right now, once a week is fine. I might go for two articles per week soon when I feel more stable.
So you missed your target.
Maybe it just means you need to be more realistic about your capabilities.
There’s nothing like failure to shatter delusions of superhuman-ness.
6. It’s time to reevaluate your intentions
Why are you really doing this?
The one thing that helped me get back on track after slipping up was this: I started my blog because above all, I want to share my experience on the internet so that if anyone ever finds themselves in the same position, my article will be there for them.
So when I missed my article last week, I felt annoyed with myself and considered posting a shorter article about anything just so that I don’t miss my deadline.
But then I thought, if I were a reader of my own blog, I’d be pretty pissed off if my favourite blogger were to post something just for the sake of posting.
Reading requires effort. I would be wasting my readers’ time and insulting their intelligence if I don’t believe that I have something important to say in my post. Readers are smart and they can sense this.
So taking this into consideration, I understand the purpose behind my articles – to share experience that will help people. If the article is not ready, why post something useless? I would rather skip and damage my track record than waste my readers’ time.
Similarly, when I started exercising, I wanted to do it 6 days out of a week at least. On days that I missed my treadmill sessions, I found myself thinking, “I’ll never be fit.”
But this is stupid. Too often we get lost in data and charts and graphs and forget the real reason behind our goals.
I didn’t start exercising and eating healthy to have a perfect streak on my Fitness Pal phone app. I exercised and ate healthy so I can be a fit and healthy and happy person. Missing a day or two or even a week does not negate that.
I don’t write one article per week so I can say to myself, “I never missed a deadline.” I write articles because I want to help people.
Keep your real intention and purpose close to your heart. Everything else is just noise. Your slip up is noise. Perfectionism is noise.
Beating yourself up for breaking a streak and using that as an excuse not to keep going is a selfish thing to do.
Because it’s not about you. It’s about your purpose.
If you’re confused about what your purpose should be, I also wrote an article about how to find it. It happens to be one of my best performing articles to date.
7. Sometimes the best thing to do to get back on the horse is counter-intuitive
If you missed your deadline, instead of working harder and longer hours, maybe what you need is to slow down and simplify your tasks. Maybe you have too many goals to meet at one time. Instead of ten, pick one. I’m not kidding. Pick one.
I wrote a post on mono-tasking last month and it has changed my life for the better. I am a convert and a staunch believer of doing one thing at a time now.
Picking one doesn’t mean you’re sacrificing the other nine. Picking one right now means that you will achieve that goal much, much sooner. When you’re done with one goal, you can move on to the next. The result? You actually finish all ten goals much sooner than if you were tackling all ten goals at the same time.
Another counterintuitive thing I always do nowadays is to exercise when I feel down on energy. It works wonders on me. If you feel like many parts of your life is not going very well and you don’t know where or how to start fixing it, I highly recommend starting with your physical health.
And I’m not talking about any fancy shmancy HIIT routine or sophisticated machines you find in gyms. I literally treadmill walk (no running for me) on a 10-13% incline while watching two episodes of Grimm per session (coz I ran out of Game of Thrones).
Exercise isn’t everything, but it does affect everything. Before I started exercising regularly, I dreaded the thought of it. Surely spending 45 minutes on physical work will tire me out the whole day?
But now I can wake up at 5am, exercise for 80-90 minutes and have so much more energy for the rest of the day than I’ve ever had before. If you feel a mild fever coming up, instead of staying in bed and waiting for it to come, put on your running shoes and take a super slow walk around a place with trees. It does wonders to the way you perceive the world 40 minutes later.
If there’s magic in this world it’s probably exercise. Every part of your life will improve somehow. You have to try it to believe it.
Experiencing a bout of imperfection might just be the perfect thing for you right now.
If I hadn’t failed to update on time last week, I wouldn’t have written this article.
If I hadn’t written this article, I couldn’t have convinced myself that I am capable of writing two 3,000-word articles in a week.
And without all this pressure to make up for last week, I wouldn’t have this fiery, renewed need to improve my schedule so I can meet my deadlines better in the future and reduce further suffering to myself. Seriously, I’m so proud of myself for coming up with this article in one day even though I completely busted my ass the whole day yesterday on manual labour, but I’d rather not stress myself out like this on a consistent basis. It’s not good for my complexion.
Mistakes and slip ups are symptoms to something bigger that needs slow and steady efforts at fixing.
If you’re having an allergic reaction to dust and find yourself sneezing your nose off, do you stay where you are and try to force yourself not to sneeze? Or do you remove yourself from your dusty surrounding and swallow antihistamine pills to stop the reaction?
Sneezing is the symptom. Contact with dust is the cause and the trigger. You can wipe your nose until your skin tears but unless you remove yourself from a dusty environment and take a shower to remove the allergens and eat medicine, the sneezing will never go away. Left unsolved, all the sneezing will cause pain in your ears and your airway will get blocked with swelling, leaving you unable to breathe. Much, much bigger problem.
If you keep staring at the symptoms (missing a deadline or not hitting a target) and spend time feeling miserable about it, you will miss the real reason why the symptom occurred.
Small problems are gentle warnings and reminders to a bigger issue. Therefore, treat yourself gently for failing.