This is the true story of how perfection killed my mojo and made me miss many opportunities for growth.
I have a thing about quality and excellence. While that may sound like a good trait, it can backfire quite frequently. Perhaps you can relate? Do you find yourself doing nothing, because you don’t think what you do will be good enough? This is the fastest way to stay exactly where you are.
I sit around for weeks envisioning how the best version of a project can be, and get so enamoured with that image that it becomes difficult to show the world anything less. High standards are great but a problem arises when those ideals make you ashamed to even start.
Brendon Burchard made almost drop my phone one day. There I was scrolling through instagram and his post grabbed my attention. “It’s not real fear. It’s just that you’re embarrassed to be seen starting small. – Brendon”
Dang it Brendon! Why are you exposing me and calling me out? Geez! Unfollow! Ok not really on the unfollow because I’m fan of Brendon’s work. But that piercing quote cut straight to a condition that many of us have. We dress it up as a desire for excellence and quality, but what is really stopping up from making moves is the shame of people seeing our messy, imperfect, amateur, small beginnings. This was me, and it sort of still is me. Is it you?
Let’s talk about some great advice I heard this month: start ugly. A few weeks ago I crossed off a 2019 goal by attending a major conference related to my career where I could build new connections and learn from people who are much smarter. There I was at Podfest Multimedia Expo in Orlando, FL casually chatting with giants in the hallways. John Lee Dumas of EO Fire, Pat Flynn, Jordan Harbinger, Dave Jackson, Kate Erickson, Roberto Blake and others who have put in so much work to build their craft and influence.
I was delighted that they took the time to have genuine conversations with a smaller creators like myself when they have followings in the hundreds of thousands.
There was one common thread throughout all their stories. What you see now did not exist on day one. They started with their best effort, put it rigorous work, studied, tried, failed and tried again until the practice produced progress. Imagine what would have happened if they let the shame of starting small stop them from starting at all.
Putting your work out there is scary. No arguments on that point. It’s hard to be creative when you’re crippled with thoughts of “what if this sucks?”. Allow me to clear the ambiguity. Your first and perhaps even 50th attempt will indeed probably suck. There we have it, now let’s move on. The faster you can put in the reps, learn and improve, the sooner you can be on the way to producing things you’re more proud to share.
This concern about not being good enough has made me shy away from internships, job opportunities, business deals and even women times. Thankfully had a few mentors in life to give some tough love and smack me into action despite my reservations.
Start Today, Improve Tomorrow
When I transferred to Morehouse College in 2003 from a small community college in the British Virgin Islands the first year was rough. I had to repeat a number of classes because professors weren’t satisfied with the level of course work at the previous school. One month into repeating a class that technically should be a breeze, it was clear that they were right.
The late Dr. Cheryl Allen was the accounting professor who would eventually become a mentor and friend. Nearing the end of application season for internships, she stopped me in the hall and asked, “Mr. Vanterpool”, she never used first names, “where are you working this summer?”
Sheepishly I started explaining that I wasn’t good enough yet so I didn’t apply for anything. Bad move. After the look of utter disgust left her face, Dr. Allen firmly instructed me to apply for an internship at a Big 4 accounting firm. “The deadline is tomorrow Mr. Vanterpool so I suggest you hurry. Come by my office in the morning to collect your recommendation letter. Bye.”
Keep in mind that the last set of instructions were given with no eye contact, back turned as she walked away, leaving me standing in the hallway watching her office door close. Dramatic right? Well, I got the summer job, which turned into an entire career in accounting, finance, and now podcasting about careers.
I wouldn’t say I was the perfect accountant during that internship, but it was my ugly start. The perfection you seek is on the other side of a bunch of messy tries. Don’t let perfection kill your mojo.
What will you start today?
Dalan is a private banker, executive career coach and content creator sharing essential career advice for ambitious young professionals at dalanv.com. Catch him on social media @dalanv.