Thursday, January 19, 2017

How Your Perfectionist Instinct Can Kill Perfectly Good Business Ideas

Back in May, I posted about the new direction I was taking this year, and my shiny new domain name, freedom.biz.

Then, although it wasn’t my intent, I went radio silent on this blog for over 3 months! What happened? Well, two surprising things…both good.

One, our business at 1Up Repairs took off more quickly and grew much faster than we had anticipated. We’ve currently 8x’ed our revenue year-over-year, which is way more revenue than we expected to do this soon. We even set sales records all summer, which we thought would be our slow period since we’re on a college campus and most students are off for the summer.

We’ve hired two new full-time employees just to help keep up, and are planning on hiring a third in January. We still have a lot of work to do on the marketing side, since John and I, until now, have basically been running the store while hiring and training people.

If this level of growth keeps up, next year we should do over a million dollars in sales — wow. That’s way more than we expected, but we are so grateful!

And then, of course, there’s one other thing I’m super grateful for — I’m pregnant!

My first trimester was rough — I won’t lie. I felt alternately nauseous and vomiting for weeks on end, and I was unable to work full time, which was frustrating, especially with our business growing so rapidly. My doctors assured me it would ease up by my second trimester, so by week 10-11 I was counting down the days.

By week 14, I was feeling “normal” again — more tired than usual, yes, but the nausea and vomiting had passed. The second trimester has been good, and I’ve been able to return to work, which mostly meant working 1Up Repairs’ front counter and maintaining my coworking space, Opportunity Space. Between those two businesses, plus the added tiredness, I haven’t been able to keep up with my blog as I’d have liked.

Difficulties Bring New Insights…

With every difficult period in our lives seems to come a new insight, though, and this has been no exception. Forced into not working full time, and worse, not knowing when or what would trigger my next bout of nausea, I started to deeply tap in to my body’s natural rhythms. Instead of just reading about time management and seeing which “techniques” I could apply, I lived and breathed for the moments where I felt “okay” enough to work. I developed a keen sense of understanding exactly when my best work hours were, and how to focus through even small amounts of time.

It hasn’t been perfect. There are still tasks that have sat on my to-do list for months. But overall, I’ve been able to work fewer hours and get more done — so much so, in fact, that I’m tempted to build my first course on freedom.biz not as a marketing course, but as a time management course — focused on learning to adapt to what your body has to say, and using your own natural rhythms and flows to get your to-do list done at optimal times, while feeling less overwhelmed and stressed.

I fear, though, that most people won’t want to hear this, because unfortunately I have a feeling their bodies are going to say the same thing mine did for the first few weeks: “Rest. Rest. Rest!”

The whole time management industry is devoted to this crazy “stacking” of to-do items into some sort of wizard-like pyramid, and then when it comes crashing down on you because you try to fit too much into it, it is, of course, your own fault for not grokking “the system” well enough. It reminds me a lot of the weight-loss industry, which is so focused on “Eat less; move more” or “Eat this, not that” that your body’s subtle cues are lost in a sea of screaming blog posts with 10-point checklists and pictures of ridiculously-too-fit people.

The message of listening to your body is incredibly important, but I have a self-conscious complex about it; I am simply not a paragon of crystal-clear, perfect time management myself. I have emails I haven’t responded to in weeks or months. Some days I don’t want to do anything (I’ve learned, by tapping into my body, that those aren’t “lazy” days for me; they’re my body telling me it’s overworked and I need to take some time for self-care instead of ignoring it and getting up and working. One of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn in my whole life!)

My Unhealthy Perfectionist Instinct

In other words, I’m still learning, and I don’t feel worthy of teaching until I’ve learned more or become somehow “better” at it — my perfectionist instinct at its absolute worst, I admit.

Perhaps, though, it is more about the journey than the destination. Maybe I’m not meant to sit up here from on some sort of perfect, figured-it-all-out platform and dictate to you how to build a successful business, or how to manage your time. Maybe I’m meant to “teach from the trenches” and learn as I go.

Perhaps, as Brene Brown put it in her TED talk on vulnerability, this isn’t my time to “control” or “predict” time management, but just to roll with it and accept that I am not perfect at it, and that no one really is, but acknowledge that my stories about it and what I’ve learned are still important.

Is it possible I don’t need to be a paragon of time management to teach it; that I can be a normal human being with ADHD who forgets things and has 466 emails in her inbox (that’s the actual number, right now) and none of that actually matters when it comes down to teaching it? That it is, as Brene Brown puts it, I just have to believe that I am worthy of teaching it. Whatever it turns out to be — whether that’s time management or marketing or building a business.

Or heck, just writing and publishing a freaking blog post! My perfectionist instinct has killed several potentially great blog posts as well, that now sit in my Drafts folder (some with over 4000 words) instead of being shared with the world.

For The Cynics

I should add, here, for the cynics in the audience, that there are people out there who want to teach without having learned or lived what they teach. This is common in the “make money online” market — a market I’ve done my best to pull away from in the past few years. People make a bit of money online and they suddenly have some sort of “epiphany” (often guided by someone else who has made just a bit more money than they have) that the Next Great Thing they can do is teach other people how to make their first $ 400 online, or whatever thing they’ve just done for the first time. At the worst, there are those who haven’t made any money online and are still trying to teach others how to make money online.

Taking that situation and adding belief of worthiness doesn’t create value. That’s not what I’m talking about here when it comes to my situation. I’m not naively jumping in and saying “I know nothing about this and have never done it; let me teach it anyway!”

What I am saying is that the time management industry is broken; I believe I’ve developed some tools that will help solve it for some (not all) people, and I need to have the confidence in myself to launch that (or failing that, launch something I know I can teach) even if it’s not perfect.

I am the other extreme from the not-so-hypothetical “make money online person who has never made any money online” I outlined above; I have built multiple successful businesses, but time management still feels frustratingly out of grasp for me, and I believe that’s because the industry and the courses in it focus on the wrong things.

There are those who don’t know anything and try to teach it anyway, and most of them fail (although they often get a great learning experience in the process.) There is a large “happy middle” of people who have the self-confidence to teach, backed by experience, and many of them succeed. Then there is a small group of people who lack the self-confidence and are so hemmed in by perfectionism that even though they are perfectly capable of teaching a particular way of doing things, they never even attempt it because they are consumed by the fear of not knowing enough or of needing to know some nebulous “more” before they teach it.

I am in the latter group, unfortunately, and that’s why I’ve consistently struggled to launch products and even write blog posts. My statement on the matter has always been “This will change.” Now I’m saying “This is changing.” I do believe I am ready to teach what I know–now, I just have to get out of my own perfectionist loops long enough to do so.

This will be a great thing to show my daughter as she grows up, as well. 
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