Lately there’s been an incredible amount of focus on high performers pushing back on everything from employer demands (thus “The Great Resignation) to appearing at athletes refusing to attend high stress press events or even, in the case of Simone Biles, participate in the Tokyo Olympics. If anything good has come out of this pandemic it’s perhaps the realization that (as tennis star Naomi Osaka said) “it’s ok to not be ok.” The pressure to appear perfect has been, largely, lifted.
The challenge with wanting everything to be perfect is that it is fundamentally at odds with scaling a company
I’m a lifelong (and still recovering) perfectionist- a personality trait many Founders and CEOs can identify with (which may be why I advise so many firms that are stuck in their growth curve). Why? The challenge with wanting everything to be perfect is that it is fundamentally at odds with scaling a company. One of the best pieces of advice I received when I was in the midst of scaling my second company and suffering from severe exhaustion was “don’t let perfect get in the way of good enough.” For a perfectionist, that’s a tough pill to swallow but the truth is…. if you want a company to grow (and grow quickly), perfection in every moment, in every process, simply isn’t possible.
I’ve often used the phrase “let go to grow” because it’s critical to focus on the activities that actually need your attention (and perfectionist eye!), versus those that don’t. Personality traits also matter: to some extent, you’re the one who decides what demands to put on yourself. Even the demands that others place on you will be filtered through your perceptions of what they expect. And your level of self-belief will influence how well you think you can handle those demands.
Perfectionism, too, has (in one widely used definition) three key elements. One is how you see yourself: “I put pressure on myself to perform perfectly.” The second is how you think others see you: “People always expect me to perform perfectly.” And the third is how you see others: “I am never satisfied with the performance of others.” The first two are presumably most relevant to the risk of burnout for Founders and executive teams; the third, is most relevant for investors or outside advisors.
Read on for how you can avoid burnout from perfectionism in this article from Alex Hutchinson in Outside Magazine. Although Hutchinson’s advice is focused largely on athletic performance, I find it just as relevant for those folks struggling from the same issues in a business setting.