Defer Greatness — There’s often this sense of urgency that acts like a barnacle to perfectionism. All the things, need to happen RIGHT NOW. Instead of succumbing to that pressure, say to yourself ‘someday’. ‘Someday, I will have what I am desperately seeking to have today’. By taking this approach, you’re not giving up but rather offering yourself permission to enjoy what you have now without the agony of clinging to perfection.
Many successful people are perfectionists. At the same time, they have the ability to say “Done is Better Than Perfect” and just complete and wrap up a project. What is the best way to overcome the stalling and procrastination that perfectionism causes? How does one overcome the fear of potential critique or the fear of not being successful? In this interview series, called How To Get Past Your Perfectionism And ‘Just Do It’, we are interviewing successful leaders who can share stories and lessons from their experience about “how to overcome the hesitation caused by perfectionism.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Aisha R. Shabazz.
Aisha R. Shabazz is a licensed clinical social worker, therapist, career consultant, and solo private practice creator. Aisha established a mental health private practice, In Real Time Wellness, that offers individual and group therapy to socially conscious and creative teens, young adults, and human beings who are seeking to relieve anxiety, release insecurity, and build confidence.
Through her consulting firm, she serves marginalized mental health therapists and helping professionals who are striving to offer high-quality care to their client and patient populations without sacrificing their own health and wellbeing in the process — addressing not only the impact of employee exploitation, toxic working environments, and burnout that occurs in the helping industry, but also offering practical guidance on how therapists and helping professionals can creatively use their unique technical skills to expand into entrepreneurship.
Her business enterprise is value-based and founded on the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), decolonization, and anti-racism.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born in Tacoma, Washington and as a child, I moved around a lot, 8 states and 1 European country to be exact, because both of my parents served in the United States Military. Although, having a transient lifestyle at an early age, helped me to become very adaptable and exposed me to many beautiful cultures but it wasn’t all cupcakes and sprinkles.
Once we moved to the Northeast region of the States, being the perpetual new kid became more of a burden because we moved to towns that were more or less closed to ‘outsiders’. The most difficult move for me was from Western Maryland to New Castle County Delaware. Partially, because I spent the past 5 years of my youth in Western Maryland and once we relocated to Delaware during my Sophomore year of high school, the novelty of being the new kid wore off.
I didn’t understand it at the time and frankly, some of it is still a mystery but I was treated like an interloper. All I wanted to do was to attend school, make friends, learn and have fun and it was rough. Even though I joined various clubs and joined the track & field team, I was bullied in school, which impacted my self-esteem and mental health.
I desperately pleaded with my parents to let me return to my comfort zone in Maryland but that wasn’t presented as a viable option and even contemplated transferring to a different school.
During my junior year, the bullying finally let up and I made some long lasting friendships. My experience of being the perpetual new kid, significantly shaped how I navigate the world, (literally and figuratively). Building community is really important to me, I strive to support those who have experienced ‘otherness’ and serve as a friendly guide along their path, as they venture through uncharted territory.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m not sure who originally said it, but I recently heard Chris Do, share a quote on Clubhouse “My version of hell is coming face-to-face with the person I could have been.” This really struck a chord with me because it’s not uncommon that as we enter adulthood, our creativity fades away due to grotesque and rigid societal expectations that are impressed upon us. Our capacity to dream and embrace what lights us up becomes deferred and stunted. My intention in life is to embrace all of life’s moments, so that I won’t lose touch with what matters most — the present moment.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Quiet by Susan Cain had a significant impact on my personal and professional life. It was recommended to me by a pre-marital counselor, as a way to get to know my partner and future spouse, who is a presumed introverted. I read it with the sole intention of doing my session homework, but I actually learned a lot about myself.
The book introduced a conceptualization of the extroverted ideal and helped me recognize that my externally recognized quirks, were actually manifestations of my style of introversion. It helped me to embrace what I need when I’m feeling inspired to create and when I’m feeling overstimulated by life.
I’ve introduced this text to colleagues, friends, and clients alike because I truly believe that if we take the time to breakdown the systemic barriers that have convinced us that being different is ‘bad’, we’ll soon recognize that we’re merely just seeking an opportunity for our unique temperaments to thrive.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Discernment, Nonattachment, & Impermanence, which all three are tied together with humility and patience. Discernment because the ability to think critically allows me to resist the urge to over value one way of seeing, being, and doing over another. For me, practicing nonattachment serves me well as a business leader because innovation grows from not only being creative but also being detached from the idea that there is only one way of being, seeing and doing things. And impermanence keeps me grounded, because it helps me to appreciate each moment for what it is, so instead of thinking to myself, “Once I hit this milestone, I’ll be happy, fulfilled, and ‘successful’,” I focus on the present moment.
Life is so fleeting, and we don’t have to wait for a future moment to fully experience life. We can choose to live right now. My yoga and meditation practice offers me the daily opportunity to practice these principles of discernment, nonattachment, impermanence, patience, and humility. Yoga and meditation is a lifestyle for me, so much so that it’s not about what it looks like from a superficial standpoint, but what it looks like in real life — off the yoga mat and off the cushion.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Let’s begin with a definition of terms so that each of us and our readers are on the same page. What exactly is a perfectionist? Can you explain?
In my perspective, a perfectionist is someone who is plagued with the burden of ‘there is only one way or very limited ways of defining the right and wrong way of being, seeing, and doing. There is a limited world view of how things can be accomplished and independent of who is defining the ‘right way’, the perfectionist will strive to hit that target not 75% of the time, but 110% of the time. Good isn’t enough, everything has to be phenomenal, all the time. The perfectionist finds joy from the accolades of strangers more than praise from their peers because the perfectionist doesn’t believe that their nearest and dearest will be honest with them about their flaws and follies; mostly because they are expected to be kind and generous. To a perfectionist, the outside world, is the only place that will be honest and they need a group of strangers, hopefully prestigious strangers to validate their worth; only then will their efforts towards achievement be worth it.
The premise of this interview series is making the assumption that being a perfectionist is not a positive thing. But presumably, seeking perfection can’t be entirely bad. What are the positive aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?
This is a stretch for me because at this stage in my life, I don’t see perfectionism as being a positive attribute. One could argue that perfectionism allows you to stand out among a crowd of mediocrity. But as I shared earlier, standing out in a crowd isn’t valued in all communities and therefore the lifestyle of a perfectionist is a slippery slope towards anguish.
What are the negative aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?
Where do I start!? There are many scholars and social researchers that attribute perfectionism as one of the many characteristics of white supremacy. There’s a stunning resource and commentary about the characteristics of white supremacy that I highly recommend by Tema Okun. The moment a dear friend of mine introduced this resource to me, it was ground-breaking because I was then challenged to consider, how was I perpetuating white supremacy culture. The moment you say to someone, “did you know that perfectionism is a characteristic of white supremacy?”, it opens up a boundless opportunity to do things differently. The most hopeful aspect of Okun’s work is that, there’s an offering of antidotes to the characteristics. I find it helpful because instead of just painting a dismal picture, we’re invited to see the alternatives through active resolution.
From your experience or perspective, what are some of the common reasons that cause a perfectionist to “get stuck” and not move forward? Can you explain?
The cycle of perfectionism will almost always result in feeling stuck because that feeling means you’re hitting a wall — realizing that perfection cannot be achieved.
But instead of turning around to the next best thing, you keep walking up to that wall, thinking that something will change. Maybe the wall will move, bend, break, that somehow you will achieve the unachievable, but in reality the only thing that moves, bends, breaks, and changes is you. If you come to terms that perfectionism is a futile effort, the change will be more pleasant, however if not, the change will bring more despair, having negative consequences on your health, wellbeing, relationships, and future.
Here is the central question of our discussion. What are the five things a perfectionist needs to know to get past their perfectionism and “just do it?” Please share a story or example for each.
- Set a timer — Since perfectionism is simultaneously boundless and restrictive, setting a timer to complete a certain task could help tremendously when it comes to how much time you spend on completing your next project or task.
- Break it down into steps — You’re less likely to feel stuck, if you know where you’re going, so breaking down your process into steps, could help reduce the spiral of time becoming out of control.
- Consider the alternatives — Remember perfectionist often think there’s only one way of being, seeing, and doing, so by coming up with alternatives you’re allowing yourself to consider alternatives, which has the positive impact of releasing you from the unattainable burden of perfection.
- The Next Best Thing — Now that you have a list of alternatives, it’s time to prioritize them and determine what’s the next best thing. Working your way down the ladder aka away from the myth of perfection will help keep things into perspective.
- Defer Greatness — There’s often this sense of urgency that acts like a barnacle to perfectionism. All the things, need to happen RIGHT NOW. Instead of succumbing to that pressure, say to yourself ‘someday’. ‘Someday, I will have what I am desperately seeking to have today’. By taking this approach, you’re not giving up but rather offering yourself permission to enjoy what you have now without the agony of clinging to perfection.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would love to see the world take a decolonization approach to life. If we’re able to dismantle how systems of oppression impact our daily lives, as a global society, I believe that we would be happier, healthier, and more fulfilled.
Let’s stop the sense of urgency, that everything must be done NOW or else. Let’s disconnect from the idea that more is better. Let’s release the limiting belief that we all have to see things the same way, or else our control and power is relinquished to “them” and no longer with “us”. Having an all or nothing approach to life is so limiting and yet each aspect of our lives thrives off this false notion.
For example, the covid-19 global pandemic has opened a lot of employees and employers eyes as to what is fair and unfair, just and unjust, humane and inhumane, especially when it comes to working conditions and workplace expectations.
Many employers around the globe, want things to ‘return back to normal’ aka seeing pre-pandemic life as the only way to do things and many employees are exhausted by this limiting belief and are inspired enough to stand up for themselves and say, enough is enough.
It’s imperative that we take a second look at how things used to be and ask ourselves, who came up with that rule of thumb and who was it serving and underserving. Toxic competition between businesses often leads to employee exploitation, negating the human capital that is necessary for commerce to take place. If we’re sacrificing the people we need to make things happens for the sake of being ‘the best, the biggest, and the first’, then we’re completely missing the point of life.
The pandemic didn’t invent the concept that gig workers are exploited, that a 9 to 5/5-day workweek disproportionately impacts families with dependent children, that schools are inadequately funded, and that helping professionals, healthcare workers, and teachers are the most undervalued and over-utilized employment group in society. Those of us who have been aware of these disparities have been advocating for change for quite some time and yet the opportunities for sustainable change have not clearly presented themselves until now — that’s what it means to decolonize our lives. It’s imperative that we ask ourselves why and why not, so that we can do things differently for the benefit of more and not at the detriment of many.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would love to have lunch with Spike Lee. At an early age, my parents introduced me to influential films, music, and art from their childhood and as I grew up, they continued to expose me influential artists and creators, so that my world view would continue to expand.
Spike Lee has an elegant and candid approach to his storytelling and despite criticism over the years for standing out, he continued to share the stories of the silenced in a way that created more space for people like me to share their own stories.
How can our readers follow you online?
Visit my website where I talk more about topics like this, as well as my musings about being a therapist and helping professional. And most days you can find my hanging out on Instagram and Clubhouse — Handle across all social media platforms is @aisharshabazz.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
It was an pleasure to have the opportunity to share with you my thoughts & bit of my story. Be well.