Paralyzed by Perfectionism – Episode 8 of Undeclared for Life
Image by Anglada Pujol, available under CC BY 2.0.

Paralyzed by Perfectionism – Episode 8 of Undeclared for Life

Written by Emilie

Topics: Goals, Podcast

WOW! Thanks to everyone for sharing your spectacular failures these last few days. It seems the topic of failure is one that we all know intimately. It’s certainly reassuring to feel like we’re all in this together, isn’t it?

The Twitter feed (#failweek) has been buzzing all week as you guys posted replies on your blogs and tweeted about your failures as they occurred throughout the day. Amazing! I’m truly touched by the overwhelming response.


Today’s podcast episode is closely related to failure. It’s about the paralyzing effects of perfectionism.

But first, a little story…

Last August I hired a business coach to help me sort through my ideas and give me some direction. I decided to pay for coaching because I knew that if I invested some real money into my future, I would be infinitely more motivated to take action.

Among other things, I expressed my desire to start a podcast. Now, my coach was someone who had created his own successful podcast and was one hundred episodes deep. I asked him how he got started:

“My buddy and I went out, picked up a couple cheap microphones, turned on GarageBand and hit record. Our first few episodes were terrible, but we never would have gotten any better, had we waited.”

Admission: Perfectionism Held Me Back

As much as I wanted to create my own podcast, I was scared. It wasn’t like writing, which is something I’d been doing for years. Public speaking was an entirely different beast. I had no experience. In fact, it was a weakness of mine, something I’d struggled with my entire life.

So yes, I was scared to create a podcast. I wanted to wait. And you know what? I did wait.

I waited 4 months.

Watch the intro video on my sidebar. I created that when I launched Puttylike in September. Notice how I refer to myself as a “podcaster”? That’s because I thought I would be podcasting right out of the gate. That was my plan.

Before Intelligent Action Comes Action… Regular Old Action

Most people don’t ship anything out into the world because they’re afraid of not being perfect. Ironically, it’s by shipping something imperfect, that mastery is attained.

This is the main reason that so few people create extraordinary businesses or artistic masterpieces. Many people have innovative ideas, but few are willing to risk being wrong and failing publicly.

It’s not that the few who take action have special talents or are more intelligent than everybody else– they don’t, and they aren’t. They’re simply willing to fail. That’s how they get good. And you know what? it’s the only way to get good.

Do Only What You Need to Get Started and then START

Sometimes you need some guidance or initial information before you even know how to begin a new pursuit. So yes, get your logistics in place and learn a little. But learn just the bare minimum and then jump in. Don’t wait. You’re ready now.

And then yeah, you might look stupid for a while. But so what? Embrace your incompetence and be proud that you’re one of the few willing to be imperfect. That takes guts.

And hey, check out the “failures” who shared their stories in Monday’s post! You’re in very fine company, if I may say so myself.

In Today’s Episode of Undeclared for Life…

Ever been afraid to start something new? Terrified of looking stupid or falling on your face? Um yeah… Em and Abe share 4 killer principles to keep in mind when embarking on a new, daunting pursuit. They also share some of their own spectacular failures, including Abe’s very public moment of humiliation while reaching out to his hero Seth Godin.

Listen to the Episode


Stuff Mentioned in the Episode

Your Turn

Got any more tips for overcoming perfectionism and getting started?

And have you shared your spectacular failure yet? If not, take this opportunity to allow yourself to be imperfect with the rest of us! Don’t worry, you’re among friends. We’re all failures here. :)


  1. Anh says:

    Hi great thoughts and loving the podcast!

    “Perfectionism” is something that really resonates with me and I expect it does with all multipotentialites. There is something about being really good at some things that makes it hard to appear crappy at other things!

    The action before intelligent action reminds me of something which Merlin Mann mentioned. He says that all the people who are amazing at something didn’t start amazing – they just lowered their tolerance to sucking.

    Notes and audio here –

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Anh,

      Yup, totally. You master something and it’s like, yey! I’m awesome at this. But then your scanner nature kicks into gear and suddenly you become attracted to some new area of interest. It’s easy to want to stick with what you know rather than jumping in to the new thing you know you’ll suck at. In this sense, lowering your tolerance to sucking is especially important for the multipotentialite!

      I don’t know Merlin Mann’s stuff, but I’ll check him out. Sounds like he’s right up my alley.

      Thanks Anh.

  2. I admit my mind pretty much resides permanently in the gutter, but I laughed so hard at “suck your way to success.”

    Great show. I deal with this all the time, both with my clients and of course in myself. Here’s what I realized: perfection is evolutionary.

    Another way to say it is that perfection is not a state, it’s a process.

    I can, through iteration and revision, eventually create the perfect ebook or coaching program. It won’t be perfect the first time around and I know that. I count on it and use it as a marketing tool to get my first buyers. Several revisions/relaunches/price hikes later, I have an awesome product or service. Or at least one that’s as close to perfect as it’s ever gonna get.

    • Emilie says:

      Heh yeah, there are many dirty joke possibilities in there… It’s too easy.

      I was really impressed actually by your recent ebook launch, Michael. You so quickly collected feedback and released a second less sucky version. :) That’s not usually done.

      I guess most people would rather hide the fact that they didn’t launch perfectly the first time around, than give their customers a better product but admit to being imperfect. People are really afraid of showing weakness. But in actuality, people rarely think any less of you for admitting to your mistakes and correcting yourself.

      I guess that’s one of the big lessons I learned from #failweek- people don’t look down on us for failing nearly as much as we think they do.

      • It’s funny you put it that way because I don’t see it as me having made any mistakes at all (and I’m not taking offense at all, I just find it interesting/amusing). My plan was to do this from the beginning. Call it planned imperfection. I wanted feedback and rapid iteration to drive this thing and it worked.

        It’s not just a consolation prize for not being a perfectionist, it’s a whole ‘nother ass-kicking way to do it that goes right up to perfectionism’s face and disses it. :)

        But you’re right people are afraid of showing weakness. Thing is, what they see as weakness is usually only seen by themselves. Nobody else has a freakin’ clue! Often nobody else even knows about what we see as failures in ourselves. They don’t see that at all. Our own minds are such tortuous echo chambers, sometimes. :)

  3. Jacob Sokol says:

    You had mad laughing aloud on a NYC subway train! Greatness Em!!

  4. Stella says:

    Really enjoyed this post, Emilie. The need for perfection is just something we tell ourselves to masks our fear of failure. Just like there’s no such thing as perfection, there’s also no such thing as perfect timing either. It’s all a matter of getting started and figuring things out from there.

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Stella,

      Yup, I agree. The fear of not being perfect is intimately linked with the fear of failing. And there is no right time. The right time is now. All excuses we tell ourselves to avoid having to ship.

  5. Holli says:

    Perfect timing for me to read this post!
    I think about all the times I have stopped short from following through with a great idea because I got stuck in a “stage fright” like mode of not being really ready.
    Looking forward to listening to the podcast when I get a chance. You and Abe are such a fun and complimentary duo with a balance of energy and perspectives.

    • Emilie says:

      Yeah, it’s amazing how our minds fool us into believing that we’re not ready to start. We get into this cycle where it’s like you can’t do one thing till you do something else first and you can’t do that thing till you do this other thing, and on and on. It’s so easy to get stuck in that mind warp. I’ve been there many many times.

      And in terms of balance/perspectives of me and Abe, wait till you hear the episode we recorded last weekend… We’re talking about how hitting a low point and purging your emotions is sometimes necessary to overcome overwhelm. I’m all like “break down into tears if you need to!”, meanwhile Abe’s like “Yeah… Or go work out at the gym.” LOL…

  6. Seth says:

    I think perfection is like taking ever smaller and smaller measurements.
    Eventually the distances are so minute that, for the vast majority of applications, they make no difference.

    What Abe said about iteration is dead on. Every project can go through an infinite number of drafts and improvements but it’s never ‘finished.’

    As with taking measurements, eventually you have to decide a work is close enough, stop measuring, and just ship it out.

    • Emilie says:

      Very true Seth. I remember back in my “visual arts” days, taking painting and drawing classes and never knowing when my pieces were finished.

      I remember this one time in painting class where the teacher was walking around the room, looking at everyone’s work and he really liked what I was doing. He kept giving me suggestions and I kept going. But I reached a point when I should have stopped. However, there was time left and I wanted to impress him by making it even MORE perfect, so I kept going. When he came back around, he was like “you took this in a new direction. I preferred what you were doing before”.

      It’s like Krista was saying in last week’s podcast episode. Sometimes you can really go beyond “perfection” and then it becomes deconstruction.

      Eventually you just need to ship.

      • Seth says:

        That’s the funny thing about subjective works. There is no perfect. You can put in more time and effort and soon the returns change from diminishing to simply damaging.

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