I was listening to Brendon Burchard, an author and high-performance coach, a few days ago. He said to the audience quite plainly, “You’re not a perfectionist, you’re simply scared,” a message that struck me hard. Hearing such straightforward, no nonsense statements always invigorates me, but I don’t necessarily act on them properly. Which is just to say that instead of sitting down and writing articles on stress management and fear, I went out for a walk with a grin on my face, deep in my thoughts about the issues and matters close to my heart. Alas, procrastination came home when I did.
I have now spent over a year attending summits, reading books and articles, and generally learning about the topics related to my field. I have become a professional consumer, but I want to be a creator as well. Creation, however, demands a different type of action and I realised that I was scared.
Why am I scared – and what am I scared of?
The story of my why will take me back to misperceptions around my learning abilities, many created in my childhood and reinforced over the years.
What scares me? Pain – physical and emotional. I’ve had the misfortune of feeling physical pain, topping 10/10 when a disc in my spine burst and crushed my spinal cord, leading to emergency surgery, and again a few days later when the morphine was withdrawn and the opioids reduced.
I’m also familiar with the emotional pain of feeling insignificant and helpless, mainly because I was unable to learn to read or write properly, which led me to believe that I was an idiot who would never amount to anything.
Being used to physical and emotional pain doesn’t mean that I want to keep them around. Quite the opposite: I feel a tremendous pull towards avoiding speaking up, showing up or being seen, in an effort to protect myself.
Burchard also mentioned that many people don’t want to be seen as small, meaning insignificant, even at the beginning, and as a solopreneur small is where it begins, which can make you feel vulnerable. You will also make mistakes, probably quite a few, and fail sometimes, because you’re not equipped with the knowledge and experience of a seasoned expert. But if you skip the beginning, you miss out on the lessons.
The other extreme is no better. The idea of perfection is absurd. What would distinguish perfect calm from detachment or even death? If you had perfect intelligence who would you talk to or how would you find the motivation to do anything? Yet, we still strive for perfection.
Whether wanting to be perceived as perfect started in childhood or adulthood is probably irrelevant at this stage. What is relevant is how we move on to be able to fully engage with the world and to move towards our goals.
A change in perspective
I realised that instead of focussing on how I would be perceived I could focus on the work, and by doing so I could overcome the fear and learn in the process. Now I can allow myself to feel the fear, without being paralysed by it.
Nelson Mandela said, “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Conquering your fear doesn’t mean that you’ll never know fear again; it means recognizing it and choosing what you are going to do despite it, stepping outside your comfort zone.
You don’t need to make great strides at the beginning, you don’t have to do anything except keep moving forward. You can follow your own rhythm, taking simple steps day after day.
Look at what lurks behind the procrastination you call perfectionism. In my case, I wasn’t really afraid of writing articles like this, I was afraid of presenting myself to the world, revealing my weaknesses for everyone to see.
Once you know your why and what, you can find clever ways of helping yourself achieve your goals. I, for instance, joined Caroline Leon’s 14 Days of Content Challenge. She provided me with exactly what I needed: motivation, accountability – and a supportive community. There, because we’re sharing a common experience, we can help each other work through the fears together and acknowledge the difficulties, while celebrating every step.
I remember, after my surgery I was very weak, walking a couple of meters took me ages and I needed to support myself on walls and furniture, otherwise I would have collapsed. Three years on, although I still can’t run, I walk nicely again. It took considerable effort and practice to get here, and the healing process is far from over. Every day, I go down to the seashore to stonewalk, challenging myself to walk on the slipping, sliding flint of the stony beach. It helps with my balance and strengthens the deep muscles in my back, and after the first week alone the stonewalk significantly reduced the neuropathic pain in my lower body.
Change takes time, and if you’re chasing perfection, you’ll never truly appreciate the richness of life in all its imperfect beauty.
Stonewalk your life a little at a time, even if it scares you.
Step forward, that’s where your future is.