Get Past Professional Perfectionism Paralysis

Get Past Professional Perfectionism Paralysis

I flew west over the weekend to visit my parents. I was relieved not to be called out for TSA’s over-exposed X-ray or invasive pat down, especially after walking past a man spread-eagled in a special, see-through room, his face tightly grimaced. It’s ironic that the new security policies make some travelers feel insecure, fearing violation through undue exposure.

Exposure is a constant fear of mine, though not strictly in the physical sense. I recently diagnosed myself with a common but little-recognized ailment called Impostor Syndrome. According to one report, 40 percent of successful people consider themselves frauds. I battle against a self-deprecating voice in my head that says my successes are the result of random good luck, and it’s only a matter of time before everyone realizes they’ve been hoodwinked by these words in sheep’s clothing.
Mr. Perfect
The Impostor Syndrome sufferer also is convinced that no matter how much work and energy has been devoted to a project, it’s still not ready for prime time.

What drives this thinking and what can be done to overcome it are questions I’ve been grappling with as the holiday season approaches. At a time when we’re encouraged to be thankful about how lucky we are, sometimes fear creeps into the insecure spaces and causes us to question if we really deserve such good stuff. I’m pretty sure everyone wrestles with self-doubt at some point — maybe for you it’s about instigating that career advancement you’ve only half convinced yourself you can handle, or maybe you lose sleep over your search campaigns, knowing your family’s stability depends on your company’s health.

These are some of the strategies I’m using that help me press that Send button when my deadline rolls around, even if I don’t think my work is perfect. Taking these steps may help you avoid driving your significant other crazy or spending hundreds of dollars in therapy (though it’s nice to know you have options):

  1. Obtain external validation via tools and tracking. As they say, numbers don’t lie. Evaluate successes and failures by objective criteria. Raven Tools quantifies the effectiveness of Internet marketing, and with straightforward reporting and event tracking, you can’t argue with the facts, good or bad. Objective analysis of your work can give you the confidence you need to feel comfortable. Even better, by paying attention to tracking, analysis and reporting tools, you can watch incremental improvements over time or make adjustments during downturns.

    There’s no need to doubt yourself when the measure of success is clear. 

  2. Don’t avoid heavy soul searching. I attended a seminar last week in which a venerable Tibetan Buddhist monk shared teachings on the benefits of meditation. He mentioned that the many distractions available in today’s society can prevent us from finding internal peace. Personal peace happens when we recognize our full potential, and until that happens, we can feel stressed. We might choose to numb or ignore the constant stress with a bottle of wine or a life on the go, but these don’t address the actual cause of the stress and so they aren’t the real solution.

    Think of how much down time you’ve given yourself lately, then read this gem about how our constant connectivity may be the downfall of deep thinking. Give yourself time to ask hard questions about what you’re good at and what needs improvement, and come up with solutions that may help you grow.

  3. Remember you’re not in it alone. Go to your trusted network for their honest opinions. I know my editor will kick back a post if it’s missing something or she has an idea that would make it stronger. We usually have people we trust to give suggestions for improvement in all areas of our lives, and for the most part, they’re happy to help. Foster those relationships, and don’t hesitate to reach out for a quick opinion or feedback. Use your network as a sounding board to help you sort good ideas from weak, and be gracious when people offer honesty, even if it stings.

    Sometimes, even expressing fears out loud can help the rational part of you that knows you’re on the right track shove aside the nagging voice of self doubt.

Have you ever doubted your professional potential, and what did you do about it?

Arienne Holland

Arienne has spent 20 years in communications, ranging from graphic design to journalism to PR to marketing and formerly Raven's Director of Marketing and Education.

Arienne has spent 20 years in communications, ranging from graphic design to journalism to PR to marketing and formerly Raven's Director of Marketing and Education.

  • Taylor Pratt

    Very interesting post, Virginia. I’m actually surprised it’s only 40% of people who consider themselves fraud. It’s hard to have confidence in yourself that way. Especially if you think people are setting the bar really high for you and there is no way you could ever meet their expectations.

    Number two on your list is particularly interesting. I think it’s especially important to do when you’re feeling stressed over overwhelmed. Just a reminder that you are giving something your all should be enough to lift your spirits and motivate you to do more. It also just helps calm your mind that you aren’t as far behind or doing as bad of a job as you might think you are. I don’t think I spend nearly enough time not doing anything and reflecting. There’s just always too much to do! :)

    You do a great job, so I hope soon you won’t fall into that 40%

  • George Revutsky

    Great post. Made me think of 2 things as it relates to our field:

    1) Especially prevalent in Certain Professions
    “Impostor Syndrome” and doubting yourself are especially widespread in certain professions like Marketing, Consulting, Design and SEO. Being good in these professions, and feeling like you know what you are doing take a lot of elbow grease – just getting in there and doing it over many months and years.

    And historically, most great marketers did not get a degree in marketing – they got a degree from the school of getting $h!t done.

    2) Times of rapid Change Are Times to Rub the Chin
    Since these fields change rapidly, it’s really easy to get out of date very quickly and not always know the answer.

    In that case, this magic phrase coupled with a weary chin rub can help:
    “Hmm.. You know, I don’t know – this stuff changes so quickly. Let me double-check on that and get back to you.”