Several years ago, I remember anxiously rambling my way through a job interview. Just as the end was in sight, the interviewer dropped that infamous question, “What is your greatest weakness?”
You're probably familiar with this scenario and how it works. Your answer is supposed to be a positive trait, ever so slightly disguised as a flaw. For many of us, perfectionism is the obvious answer.
My standards are just too high, you say. Sometimes I spend too much time on something because I want it to be the best it can possibly be.
If it sounds like I'm mocking perfectionists, I promise you I'm not. Perfectionist and proud right here. Well, most of the time.
With Great Power...
In reality, perfectionism can be both amazing and terrible. It's probably both my greatest strength and weakness. I'm sure I'm not alone here. Many of us passionate and creative people struggle with the two sides of the perfectionism coin.
We all fall somewhere within that spectrum, which—for both simplicity and rhyming's sake—I'll say ranges from lazy to crazy. Figuring out where I naturally fell (which is way more toward the crazy end) helped me identify my own perfectionist tendencies, and separate my awesome habits from the destructive ones. Hopefully I can help you do the same.
Whether or not you count yourself among us, there are some amazing qualities perfectionists have which everyone can learn from. These are the productive traits or what I'll call the perks. If you tend more toward the lazy end of the perfectionist spectrum, try practicing these intentionally within your brand. If you're a crazy like me, recognize these as your strengths and own them!
Perfectionists are always looking closer, and that attention to detail is incredible. For your brand, this means understanding that every facet of the customer experience affects how people perceive your brand, even the tiniest details. When that experience is carefully crafted, those small details can work together to become extremely powerful.
Perfectionists have the amazing ability to look at something and see its potential. They can start with an idea or something that's halfway decent, and recognize how great it could be. This vision fuels us to improve our work and hone our craft. Cultivate this vision whenever possible.
It's one thing to have a great idea, but it's quite another to put that vision to work. Perfectionists have this relentless drive to bring their ideas to life, and to keep improving them. They refuse to settle for anything less than excellence. These high standards mean valuing quality over quantity—the kind of quality that will make people sit up and take notice.
It's a very tricky balance taming your inner perfectionist...
Just as there are perks to perfectionism, there are also pitfalls that—ironically enough—are tied closer than you think. If you're not careful the quest for perfection can become a relentless struggle that does much more harm than good.
This section goes out to all my fellow crazies out there. It's essential to recognize when your strengths are becoming destructive, so you can catch yourself as early and as often as possible. Otherwise, perfectionism can be an extra slippery slope.
Take a Step Back
That same amazing attention to detail can become excruciating if we're not careful. The tendency to be zoomed in so close to those tiny nuances can really drive you nuts, especially when you realize that most people won't even notice the difference. When I get in too deep, it pays to step away and do something else. When you come back, you'll be able to look at the big picture and better evaluate where to go from here.
Enough is Enough
That drive to keep improving—to endlessly tweak—can turn toxic quickly. When you're compelled to keep refining and refining, it's easy to let feelings of inadequacy run rampant. Personally, I've got this dangerous habit of working on something until it “feels right.”
This is why deadlines are absolutely essential. At some point you have to say “enough” and ship the darn thing already. Make yourself a timeline and recognize that sometimes good enough is just that.
The drive to never settle can easily turn sour, especially when those quality standards become impossibly high. I've had so many ideas over the years, never wanting to share them until they're just right. I get stuck in this infinite loop of self-scrutiny and what happens? I give up and move onto the next thing before these ideas even have a chance.
Honestly striving for perfection is a losing battle, filled with heartache and frustration. When I'm drowning in details, it seems like I'm doing everything. Yet to everyone else, it looks like I'm doing nothing since I'm keeping it all to myself. It really does pay to start sharing and to put things out early. Don't deprive the world of your amazing ideas.
Walking the Line
It's a very tricky balance taming your inner perfectionist, using its inertia to propel you forward without holding you back. We all know that nothing is ever perfect, and yet we still need to hear it from time to time. We need that reminder.
Harnessing your perfectionism takes time. It's a muscle you need to exercise if you're going to use it to your advantage. Let it drive you to improve, but don't let it keep you from sharing your unique brilliance.
Keep sharing and evolving. It's never too late to make a change. There's amazing value in the journey and vulnerability that makes all of us (and our brands) distinctly human.