Being a successful entrepreneur requires a lot of qualities, some of which are occasionally at odds with each other. You must be smart enough to make strong business decisions and also brave enough to take risks where it’s impossible to know the outcome. Unfortunately, it’s easy to let one of these qualities overrule the other, and without a strong balance between the two, you can end up taking poorly calculated risks that result in consequences you hadn’t considered.
I’ve personally struggled to balance these two traits and know where to focus my energy. Someone who is too brave and takes too many risks might need to step back and think through the possible ramifications of the actions they’re considering. But it can be more challenging for someone who is too smart to do the opposite and learn to take more risks—you might spend a great deal of time predicting all of the possible negative things that could happen as a result of a decision and never take risks at all. This second problem—being too smart—is also closely tied with another challenge that’s all too common: perfectionism.
Many people seem to believe that perfection is a positive thing. After all, it’s associated with things like attention to detail and high quality standards. If you’re a perfectionist, you will make sure the job is done to the absolute best of your ability. But therein lies the problem. Everyone knows there’s no such thing as “perfect,” and meeting your own high quality standards may not be realistic. When it comes to business opportunities, you’re never going to find a course of action that comes with no risk of adverse outcomes. It’s better to make progress than to wait for perfection.
Perfectionism also leads to another common challenge many people face: procrastination. Worse, in situations where you don’t have a strict deadline, procrastination can simply turn to inaction. Perfectionism creates procrastination by showing you all your inadequacies or all the problems with whatever you’re working on. You might say to yourself, “I don’t have all the knowledge or skills I need to complete this now, so I’ll come back to it later.” It might also look like, “I don’t know if I can handle the risks associated with this opportunity. I’ll wait for something better to come along.” Or you might feel incapable of making a decision and allow an opportunity to pass you by before you’re able to act decisively.
In these kinds of scenarios, sometimes there are things you can do to fill in the gaps in your skills or knowledge so you feel prepared to take on whatever challenge you’re facing, but often it’s not realistic to achieve a perfect level of skill or knowledge, or to mitigate every risk. In business, it’s often necessary to dig into your bravery and simply act, knowing that challenges will arise and you’ll be able to address them along the way.
It can be very difficult to overcome perfectionism, especially because it’s something that tends to plague people who are particularly smart. As a smart entrepreneur, you’re able to see all the ways in which your idea, plan, or project isn’t as good as it could be, and it’s difficult to ignore those things. These doubts are also often rooted in insecurity—a fear not only of the possible negative outcomes or failure, but also of how that failure reflects on you as a person. If you tie a great deal of your self-worth to your work, this can be extremely difficult to overcome. You might feel that a negative outcome means not only that your efforts failed, but that you are a failure.
So what is the solution? I’m not going to tell you to simply change your mindset, because that’s something much easier said than done. But being aware of when your perfectionist tendencies are getting in your way and keeping you from acting on an idea or an opportunity is a great start. If you need a reminder, check out my “Progress Over Perfection” shirt.
Once you begin to recognize the types of self-talk that are holding you back, you can begin to talk back to yourself and challenge those ideas. Ask yourself whether it’s realistic to gain the skills or knowledge you’d need to achieve the level of perfection you desire. Ask yourself whether perfection is really necessary—most of the time, it isn’t. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Done is better than perfect.” If you never start, that’s worse than trying and failing.
But the best solution to the problem of perfectionism is making progress. Dig into a little bit of your bravery and just act. Action creates results, and you can’t just sit there and think your way out of perfectionism—thinking too hard is what got you there in the first place. It may be uncomfortable, but even practicing failure will help you gain confidence as you learn to solve problems as they arise and redirect when things don’t go according to plan.
When you’re able to balance both your bravery and your smarts, you’ll be able to be strategically bold. You’ll feel confident in the decision you want to make and your motivations behind it, assessing the risks, and then acting. It’s a matter of knowing what you want to do and just doing it, without letting your mind get in your way. You still have to take the leap. You may fail, but that’s okay. It’s better to act and fail forward than to never act at all.