if i waited for perfection

If You Wait for Perfection

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” Margaret Atwood brilliantly captures the liabilities of perfectionism in 11 words. I certainly don’t think this lesson only applies to writers. If we waited for perfection, we would never do many things.

We would never cook dinner for our loved ones, because the flavors were slightly off-balance or the meat was a little dry. We would stay in a “secure” salaried position until we reached retirement, because the passion business venture we want to launch is uncertain and risky—and probably, a stupid idea.

If we waited for perfection, we would second-guess our ability to say the right words when someone close to us was having a hard time—because who are we to understand whatever it is that person is going through? We would never make love, tell stories, or see the world.

During the pursuit of perfection, we sabotage our own potential and the impact we have on those around us. Perfectionism is really just fear in disguise. And, the fear of “what might happen” paralyzes us.

I often go back to Atwood’s quote when I feel paralyzed by perfectionism. It happens a lot.

I have been releasing my words into the wild since 2012, back when I started this blog and published my first two novels. The past five years I’ve been a content marketer and now a consultant. I’ve produced thousands of pieces of content—from blogs to ebooks, from social media posts to videos.

Nothing was ever perfect…it was good. By “good,” I don’t mean “good enough.”

I mean that I worked hard to formulate thoughts and complexities into words. But, I also stopped over-thinking what might happen after I published something. Would someone love it? Hate it? Embrace it? Reject it? Get it? Not get it?

recording podcast

These past few months I’ve been quietly working on a new business that relates to two of my greatest passions, travel and wellness. As part of this business venture, I challenged myself to host a podcast, a medium that completely takes me out of my introverted writer comfort zone.

I was thrown back into my old cycle of perfectionism while editing the first podcast recently. As I marked up the podcast transcription for edits, I attempted the impossible. Perfectionism.

I marked all of the uh’s, um’s, and you know’s. This took an hour and it was a waste of time. Between two people, there can easily be a hundred filler words in a one-hour conversation. But, this is how real people converse.

We use filler words when we are trying to convey our thoughts. By editing out filler words and stutters too much, you sacrifice authenticity, the raw moments that happen when humans talk to each other.

Hosting a podcast is an ideal anti-perfectionism exercise for me. It’s so different than writing, because there is no cheating or polishing during the editing phase. You can edit some audio, but not too much—or people will sound like robots. The podcast needs to be good, not perfect.

If perfectionism is fear in disguise, then we have to learn to let go. We have to make ourselves uncomfortable by challenging ourselves. Then we have to say, to hell with it. People may not pay any attention or roll their eyes if they do pay attention, but who cares?

We must let go of perfection and be excited about what might happen—good or bad. Otherwise, we won’t progress as artists, as entrepreneurs, as partners, as parents, as students, as teachers…as human beings.

11 thoughts on “If You Wait for Perfection

  1. Hello. In my latest piece, I write about the book titled The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien. You might be interested in my article.

    Anyway, O’Brien, who is a major talent, recently came out with another book, his first in many years. In an interview that he gave, he says something to the effect that he hadn’t written a new book in ages because he couldn’t meet his own high standards. He’s probably a perfectionist or near-perfectionist. I’d say he was correct in not publishing anything that he felt fell short.

    Overall though, I agree with much of what you say. See ya.

    Neil Scheinin

    1. Hi, Neil! I agree with O’Brien for not publishing anything he felt fell short.

      I went back and reedited my first two self-published books, because I knew I could do better…years later when I had a better grasp on fiction. Are these books perfect? Far from it. They meet my standards though.

  2. Did you know that “filler” words are called phatic speech? They’re quite important, giving the brain time to process and letting the other person know that we’re still involved in the conversation and want it to continue. So, don’t get rid of those tiny pieces that make us human communicators. Cheers to your new venture!!

    1. I did not know…thanks, Jilanne! Sounds much better than saying “filler!”

      Especially when we’re doing remote podcast interviews, it’s helpful to have the uh’s and um’s when someone is formulating a thought. If it was dead silent, there would be more crosstalk. When not facing someone, it’s difficult to tell when they are finished talking.

      I’m really excited about this new venture! More to come.

  3. I strive for perfection, but I also know it’s unattainable. The pursuit of perfection merely paralyzes one from moving forward, as you say, so I’m learning to let go! 😉

    Thrilled about your new venture, Britt. You will be imperfect and brilliant!


    1. It’s weird because now I notice that paralyzed feeling in my body when I’m trying too hard to make something perfect.

      My jaw clenches, my heart tightens, and my mind obsesses over whatever that thing is. I’ve been doing this for such a long time that I failed to recognize the signals. Now the signals really scream out.

      I’m thrilled about this new venture too. SO happy you were a part of it!

  4. Not only is perfectionism disguised fear, it’s also a subtle form of egotism. Who am I to think myself capable of knowing everything, pleasing everyone, controlling everything?!? There is only one kind of perfection that’s possible—love, for oneself and others. “Perfect love casts out fear.” It’s so liberating and contagious. I can’t wait for the launch of your new venture. I love you, your honesty, and your willingness to take entrepreneurial risks. I know you love deeply, and that’s what makes you perfect! XOXO

    1. Perfectionism is TOTALLY a subtle form of egotism!

      I realized that as I got older when I looked at myself and asked: Who am I to even know what the hell perfection is? And…why am I seeking something so unattainable? I can get behind love—and I love you so much, MJ!

      Thank you for always being one of my strongest supporters. I am beyond excited for this new venture. It has breathed new life into everything.

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