I used to think that being a perfectionist was great. Until I decided to start my own business. I wish I could say I have mastered the art of letting go and unleashing the creativity within but my journey is still being written. I’m excited to see how the story goes…
A Brief History
For as long as I can remember, I have always been a perfectionist. Writing this sentence alone took me at least ten tries and five minutes because the alternatives either didn’t look right, feel right or were too wordy.
Call it nature, nurture,… who knows? Growing up as a 2nd generation Korean-American, my parents raised me to believe that grades and performance were everything. The NYC school system did little to suggest otherwise, as standardized tests were the basis for getting into the top specialized high schools and, while college applications emphasized the importance of well-roundedness, there were certainly ways to work around that. As such, perfectionism felt right and seemed to deliver good results (national math championships, the best high schools, universities and graduate schools).
Post-college, I found the professional world to be equally results-oriented. Performance reviews were the basis for raises, promotions. As an engineer, I was trained to analyze and optimize everything. I was doing well at work, making a good living and earning the respect of my peers.
BUT, there was another side to all of this…
As a child, I loved to draw and create. In elementary school I doodled constantly, which gradually progressed to sketching, building and even computer programming in high school. I also loved music. I played the violin but quickly realized that I was less interested in classical and more interested in improvisation and jazz. I bought myself an electric violin and began to play with a band and was having tons of fun. But all of this was a hobby. People didn’t get paid to have fun, did they? Or at least not enough to make a living?
Since high school, I always knew I wanted to start my own business someday. My father was an entrepreneur and I’d seen him pursue the things he loved with great fulfillment and reward. I talked to people who were older than me, that had been “stuck” in the corporate world for their entire life, and felt I would never be happy working for “the man”. I needed to build something that could inspire people and make the world a better place.
So what happened?
Perfectionism. The very thing I had seen serve me so well all my life became my greatest obstacle. Fear of failure, need for control, over preparation, analysis paralysis all prevented me from moving forward with my master plan to create, build, inspire. I was constantly thinking about ideas but too scared to execute on them. There was always something else I needed to learn, some other experience I had to gain, or cog that needed to be in place.
The Road to Entrepreneurship
About two years ago, I decided enough was enough. I had talked about going to business school (still a risk averse move but one in the right direction) for long enough and had seen enough of the ideas in my “idea book” get implemented by people who weren’t afraid to fall on their face for what they were passionate about.
Since then, I’ve made it my mission to embrace the following two tenets through daily repetition and practice:
As a perfectionist it’s difficult to let go (of control, details, etc.). However, as an entrepreneur you often find yourself pulled in a million directions at once. As life gets busier, perfectionism does not scale well and if you don’t learn to let go, you will self destruct. My daily practice of this ranges from setting time limits for things I am working on to delegating out work among a learning team.
Caveat. I believe there is such a thing as letting go without abandoning the principle of excellence. I am still trying to find that balance. :)
In my household, failure was not an option. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I had a “Tiger Mom.” However, academics, i.e. grades, were taken very seriously. As a result, I was raised to believe that failure was something to be ashamed of. Lately, I have made it my personal goal to embrace failure and dive headfirst into challenges that are much bigger than myself and my current abilities. It’s been terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.
Lastly, I’ve tried to take it back to where it all began. My childhood. I am blessed to have two amazing children who inspire and teach me every day what it means to recapture wonder and to dream that anything is possible. They remind me of the raw power of imagination and reckless pursuit of the things that matter most.
I’ll stop here because Saurabh is next to me telling me that this blog post defeats the purpose of tumblr which is all about “more than a tweet, but less than a blog.”
To this, I say… If anything I said above is true, then rules are meant to be broken (sometimes) and we shouldn’t feel so confined by what other people say. Now let’s all go out and make stuff happen.