As a recovering perfectionist, my tendency is to want to master something before I share it and find myself in a place of vulnerability. (See the behind the scenes post on my welcome video for a great example.) For this reason, perfectionism is both one of my strengths and one of my weaknesses. It is a strength as I prefer to offer quality work. It is a weakness because I often work on things that never get finished as I fear they won’t be able to find perfection.
And then I heard someone say: “If you aren’t embarrassed by your first version, you waited to long to put it out there.” For me that was a real test. I intuitively knew that I always waited too long - in fact, I have dozens of articles, blog posts, and even “products” that I spent significant time on that I haven’t shared with a single person. That is a problem.
Instead of the normal entrepreneur "fire, ready, aim" - I often find myself in an wheel of aim, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim….forget it. My personality is very detail oriented and risk adverse.
But I am not going to let that hold me back. In fact, I have actually made an intentional effort to value quantity over quality. That doesn't work for everyone, but it is exactly what I needed to get over my fears of perfectionism.
So, I decided I was going to actually get something done this year - I wanted to publish an e-book. But I didn’t want to be embarrassed by my work by publishing something that was less than perfect. I wanted my work to be quality and something I could be proud of. At the end of the day, however, I couldn’t be pleased if I never finished a project and published my work. So I knew that I needed to take a new approach to my work and let go of my perfectionism.
My Offering as a Recovering Perfectionist
In the beginning of 2014, I decided that I wanted to offer an e-book about innovation for new subscribers to my blog. I had already made two attempts at an e-book (both of which are still shelved), so I was ready to get something out there to share. I came up with an idea that I thought would be educating, entertaining, and empowering - the three e’s I feel are important with anything I share. But I hadn’t yet written a word of the book.
I decided that I would launch a beta version of my book to test the market and see if there was interest in this book before I even wrote it. To do this, I approached my book launch in a completely different way: I did it backwards from the prior two books I had started.
The Backwards Approach to Perfectionism
The first thing that I did was to create an e-book cover that I posted on my site. I had put myself out there before I had written a single word. This gave me the opportunity to see if the idea would hold up.
Sure enough, I started getting requests for the book to which I replied that my book was coming soon. I quickly had a handful of people who were anticipating my book, so I started to write it. As it usually does, the writing process took much longer than I anticipated, but I finished my first draft in just a few weeks.
I did a very quick round of editing, but didn’t hack this draft apart like it needed. Since I had spent all of my available time writing the book, I was behind on other duties, so I had a choice: either publish the first draft, or hold it until it is perfect. I made the choice to publish that first draft.
It was clunky, rough, and definitely not something I was proud of. In fact, I was so embarrassed by the first version of the book that I didn’t send it to several of my friends who had requested it (some of you are reading this, so I apologize!). But I was proud of myself for stepping up, putting myself out there, and actually finishing something.
As people started to download the first version of the book, I decided that I needed a better cover. I hired a designer and made a much better book cover which I advertised on my site. But the book was still horrible. So over time, I took the time to hack the book and shape it toward perfection. It isn’t perfect now, but it is something I can be proud of.
Who Cares About My Perfectionism Standards Anyway?
Frankly, there really isn’t any reason to make it perfect - I’m not going to be graded on it, no one is paying for it (yet) and the content and applications have a greater impact (for most readers) than how I dot my i’s and cross my t’s.
Now, this goes against everything in my rational, perfectionist mind. But because of this backwards approach, I now have a completed e-book - something I failed to accomplish twice before this attempt.
And guess how many complaints I received from the first version of my e-book? Absolutely zero.