Entrepreneur Mindset

Why You Can't Be a Perfectionist and Be an Entrepreneur

When combining the traits and expectations of a perfectionist with the stresses and processes of being an entrepreneur, it's not a good mix.
Why You Can't Be a Perfectionist and Be an Entrepreneur
Image credit: grinvalds | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Founder of Heart Behind Hustle
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Imagine a person who had been highly successful at her job, working her way up the corporate ladder. One day, this person decides it's time to start her own business.

From the beginning, she had extremely high standards for herself and the business. She had to do all the work, even if it meant working 18 hours a day. Her self-confidence became tied to her accomplishments as an entrepreneur, and she obsessed over every little mistake.

Related: 10 Signs You're Not Cut Out to Be an Entrepreneur

This is what it looks like when a perfectionist decides to become an entrepreneur. And it does not end well for most.

Perfectionists strive for unreasonable, often unattainable, results that over time cause mental and/or physical illness. In fact, research has shown that perfectionism is directly linked to mental illnesses including anxiety and depression.

When combining the traits and expectations of a perfectionist with the stresses and processes of being an entrepreneur, it's not a good mix.

Feedback won't change internal expectations.

After deciding to start a business, most entrepreneurs draft a business plan and seek input from mentors, business coaches and other trusted business associates. Some entrepreneurs will appreciate the feedback from these people and will modify their business plan and implement it.

Perfectionists, however, may get defensive, feel discouraged, or may not ask for feedback at all because they consider that to be a sign of weakness. These are the first signs that a perfectionist may struggle as an entrepreneur.

Related: The Top 5 Reasons Not to Become an Entrepreneur

Another thing perfectionists may do is delay the official launch of their business or program until it is "perfect," which will realistically likely never happen.

In the meantime, while obsessing on the "perfect" product or plan, the entrepreneur is missing out on opportunities to sell, build a customer base, actually help more people and adjust the business plan as he goes and achieve greater success.

One of the most well-known entrepreneurs who was also a perfectionist is the late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple. Many things have been said about Jobs and his push for perfection. He endlessly tinkered with all of our now beloved MacBooks and i-devices and required employees to get his approval on every single detail of the Macintosh computer. He often had outbursts at employees and would fire people without giving it a second thought.

Had Jobs not been so wildly innovative -- and had he not gone through a personal transformation -- Apple likely wouldn't still be around today.

Related: Sorry, Millennials -- You Are Not Entrepreneurs

There is an "I" in "team."

Adding members to your team is typically a good sign when you're an entrepreneur -- it means your business has been successful and can support employees. For perfectionists, it can be a good sign as well, but it may also present possibilities for conflict in the workplace.

Perfectionists often believe the old adage of "If you want it done right, do it yourself," and that doesn't work well when you're managing employees and your own business.

I've certainly dealt with this, too. In fact, it took me a year and a half before I was able to hire my first team member to outsource some tasks I was doing in my business and be able to trust them in doing the tasks well.

To grow your business, you should be looking at tasks to delegate to team members so you can have enough time to focus on running and growing your business. If you don't trust your team because you think you need to do everything yourself, there's no point in having employees and you'll quickly find yourself overwhelmed and burned out.

Related: It's OK If You Don't Want to Be an Entrepreneur

If a perfectionist does delegate tasks, but doesn't agree with how the employee is doing the task, a perfectionist may criticize the employee and tell them things have to be done a certain way. This could create an uncomfortable dynamic with the employee, especially if she was in fact doing quality work.

There's another situation that may arise. Alternatively, an employee could be told from Day One how to do a particular task. As time goes by, the employee may think there is a better, more efficient way to do this particular task and approaches the perfectionist to share the idea. The perfectionist may see this as a criticism of his work and may become angry or annoyed with the employee, creating an uncomfortable work environment.

Lack of balance leads to increased stress -- and eventual burnout.

Constantly striving for perfection causes stress and more than likely an excessive amount of work hours necessary to meet expectations. This could result in the perfectionists continually increasing their work time, leaving little room for social activities or family time, eliminating the possibility of a work-life balance.

This was the story of my life in the first two or three years of my business. I lived and breathed my business and spent every waking moment obsessing over it. It took becoming aware of my patterns and working with coaches to break my habits, and learning to trust myself (and the process) to finally do business differently.

For many perfectionists, work literally becomes their life, and they do not take time away to decompress or regroup, which helps people release stress. The amount of time spent working can become so intense that they'll be working more and more but achieving less, becoming counterproductive.

Long, constant hours combined with chronic stress can lead to burnout, which is something many entrepreneurs feel at one time or another. However, it's nearly inevitable for perfectionists. When people reach the burnout state, they can't function effectively on any level. Some signs of burnout can include insomnia, fatigue, loss of appetite and forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention.

Related: Becoming an Entrepreneur Is Easy but Succeeding as an Entrepreneur Is Not

Perfectionism is an exhausting, unrelenting cycle and when combined with the natural processes associated with being an entrepreneur, it's not a good combination.

If you're a perfectionist and want to be an entrepreneur, it may be in your best interest to think through your entrepreneurial plans and make sure you have the right support around you on your path. Be realistic about what you can successfully accomplish while maintaining your health and wellness.

After all, done is better than perfect. If your "perfect" thing is never published or put out there, it won't make the impact you want it to make. It could be time to shift into more of a "just do it" mentality and move through the tasks to get more done and have more time for yourself as well, as you grow your business.

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