Your time has as much value as your “product” or the thing you’re working to make perfect. Use timers to help you budget the amount of this precious resource you are willing to spend on this task. If it’s hard to get perspective, put a dollar amount on your time. Pay yourself 500 dollars or 1000 dollars per hour. How many thousands of hours have you put into your pitch, proposal, or blog post? Like me with my year-long adventure into a weight loss course. After a year of “making it perfect,” I did a beta test, got feedback, made this incredible realization about myself, and ran with it. I realized that people wanted to connect and took that lesson as the payout for that year. I never got that course out of the beta phase — I took what I learned about perfectionism and left gratefully.
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 Amy Neuzil.
Amy is a naturopathic doctor, writer, speaker, and host of the To Health With That! Podcast. Her primary focus is the MTHFR polymorphism and all of its quirks, including perfectionism. She is also the mutant-in-chief at Genetic Rockstars, a community where the overachievers, black sheep, and MTHFR folks become better.
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?
My childhood was wonderful but perhaps a bit odd. My parents struggled for years with infertility, and my mother believed she would never have kids. A family was the thing she wanted most. Now we know that this was because she had an MTHFR mutation, but it wasn’t studied at that time. In any event, I was the first pregnancy she was able to carry into later trimesters and then ended up being two months premature. Two months premature is no big deal now, but then, it had a low chance of survival. I was the smallest baby born in that hospital who survived to leave it at that time. I think in part because of this, the whole house revolved around me. My wellbeing, my safety, my education, my performance. It was a happy childhood in so many ways, and my parents were and are lovely. But there was a lot of pressure to succeed, to become something, to achieve, to be “good.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“We’re fools whether or not we dance so we might as well dance.” — Japanese Proverb.
This quote has been hugely relevant in my life. It’s a great reminder to have the courage to do the things that scare me and the things that I don’t know how to do well. To let myself be vulnerable and make mistakes and also to have more fun.
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?
American History X has been very impactful in my life. In part because it so beautifully depicts the self-perpetuating cycles of racism and violence, also because the film itself was something of a failure. The graphic depictions of violence and hatred have stayed with me for years, helping to motivate me to help more people. The lessons from the box office have survived as well. Something that I consider to be a near-perfect piece of art turned into a financial flop. It is an excellent reminder for me when I’m cruel to myself in the drive for perfection. Actually, I think the perfection, in this case, was precisely the thing that caused the box office flop. It was too real, too vivid, and it made viewers squirmingly uncomfortable to see human behavior in such a naked form.
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?
Oddly, given the nature of this article, perfection is one. Not that perfection itself was helping me — it was getting in my way and immobilizing me. But the lessons I learned from that have allowed me to become comfortable with failure, criticism, and rejection. If I hadn’t been able to see the ways I was getting in my way, I never would have been able to move forward.
Determination is another quality that has helped me to succeed. Determination, colored with its less-glorious cousin, stubbornness, have allowed me to keep going when things looked desperate. To push through when it would have been easier to give up.
Self-awareness has also been crucial in my success and something I’ve worked hard to cultivate. As a child and young adult, I struggled with criticism. I had already said all the bad things to myself in my head, and having just one person agree with them was overwhelming and mortifying for me. Learning to self-examine with some gentleness has helped me move through the parts of my nature that weren’t functional. Self-awareness has helped me to become a better custodian for my life and my goals. Examining myself in more profound ways has allowed me to remove so many roadblocks that I set in my way.
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?
According to the Oxford dictionary, a perfectionist is “a person who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection.” I think the definition set out by the American Psychological Association is more apt. “The tendency to demand of others or of oneself, an extremely high or even flawless level of performance, in excess of what is required by the situation.“ It’s the excess part that we have to remember the most carefully. We aren’t doing the best job by being perfectionists, we’re doing an unnecessary job. A quote springs to mind from Peter Drucker. “There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.”
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?
There are so many positives to perfectionism. The willingness to work hard to produce something extraordinary rather than accepting mediocre is impressive if it is balanced. Setting high standards can push you to become more, learn and grow, and stay on the leading edge. That is valuable to you as a human and to society.
About fifteen years ago, patients began coming into my office who found out that they had the MTHFR genetic variance. At that time, neither they nor their doctors knew much about it. It sparked my curiosity. The research was in the very early phase, and there was almost no clinical information available.
The symptoms and struggles my patients were having mirrored the health issues I’d had my whole life. And so, because the Universe has a sense of humor, I found out that I, too, have the variance. My perfectionism drove me to keep researching and digging and work with my patients in an intensive way to test different protocols. It pushed me to chase down information and become an expert. It helped, of course, that it was so personally relevant.
The interesting thing about MTHFR is that it affects many different areas of life — cardiac health, mental health, fertility. It’s this one root cause that ties together these divergent symptoms but also remarkable personality traits. MTHFR helps light the creative fires for black sheep, artists, and firebrands and drives high-achieving executives and athletes forward. When MTHFR is optimized, it has the potential to change people’s lives completely. I have to admit, the degree to which I have devoted myself to MTHFR isn’t exactly “normal,” but drive and perfectionism are a big part of the MTHFR genetic variant, so it’s no surprise.
What are the negative aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?
The biggest negative that I see is that it drives a wedge between you and the people around you — it prevents closeness in real and tangible ways.
Early in my career, I developed a weight loss program. I poured hundreds of hours into creating this thing. I spent a year making the materials impeccable, tinkering, fiddling, and correcting. Then, finally, I launched it to a beta group. To my surprise, the parts that people responded to the most were the bits that were off-the-cuff and spontaneous, not over-groomed and pampered. It was a turning point for me, and it made me re-evaluate my belief systems. It clarified that people don’t want everything to be glossy and perfect because nobody connects with that on a deep level. People want things to be honest, to be authentic, to come from life and from your heart rather than from hours and hours of nitpicking.
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?
In reality, nothing is ever “perfect,”, especially to a perfectionist. There is always something more you could do or something you didn’t focus on enough, or some other way to minimize your work. The level of self-judgment involved in perfectionism can get overwhelming as well. Perfectionism can be a very optimistic trait in which people believe they can go that extra mile, but it can also mask fundamental insecurity. You’re working harder than everyone around you because underneath, you’re a little bit afraid that you have to.
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.
- Your time has as much value as your “product” or the thing you’re working to make perfect. Use timers to help you budget the amount of this precious resource you are willing to spend on this task. If it’s hard to get perspective, put a dollar amount on your time. Pay yourself 500 dollars or 1000 dollars per hour. How many thousands of hours have you put into your pitch, proposal, or blog post? Like me with my year-long adventure into a weight loss course. After a year of “making it perfect,” I did a beta test, got feedback, made this incredible realization about myself, and ran with it. I realized that people wanted to connect and took that lesson as the payout for that year. I never got that course out of the beta phase — I took what I learned about perfectionism and left gratefully.
- Your quest for perfection is likely cutting you off from the people around you with whom you would most like to connect. People don’t want the overly glossy version of you; they want the you that shows up when things are complex and messy and real. One of my greatest strengths with my clients is that it’s not about what I’m doing right, and they’re doing wrong. We’re in the trenches together, and we’re all on a healing journey. I know lots of things, but they do too, and I can learn as much from them, even about MTHFR, as they can from me because we are all living with it.
- Find a visual reminder of the beauties of imperfection. It could be a picture of someone who is atypically beautiful or a flawed object that you love. For me, it’s a small teapot that my mom used to make chamomile tea in for me when I was little. It’s yellow with gold fleur-de-lis on it and a gold handle. When I was little, I thought it was so unique and so fancy. The gold has rubbed off of the handle, and the spout has a chip, but I love it. In part, because those imperfections remind me of the times, it made me happy, banished nightmares, or helped me sleep.
- It’s crucial to have a buddy — a person you trust to be straight with you. When I first went on this quest, I had to poll friends to find out how much time they spent doing things. How much time they spent writing a blog post or making a presentation. The answers completely shocked me. I have one friend, in particular, Diane, who I could go to with any project or timetable and ask her if it was good if it was healthy, if it was enough. She would answer me with a combination of sound judgment and 100% honesty. I trusted her to tell me when something needed more work and also when I was being crazy pouring ten hours into something that I should finish in one. She has a strong vein of perfectionism as well and completely understood why I needed perspective. I don’t have to go to her for that sort of thing as much these days, but I still know if I need a sounding board, she is right there.
- It matters to practice being imperfect. Answer questions even when you don’t know the answer — let yourself be wrong sometimes. Wear mismatched shoes. Leave the house one day without combing your hair or take up a hobby from scratch. Something intricate or complex that you wouldn’t normally do, like hockey or Bellydance or basketweaving. Let yourself learn something from the very beginning and show yourself that it is entirely ok not to be good. I have a friend who is an attorney in LA who loved Converse All-Stars. He had a big jumble of them in all different colors by the back door. I remember going to the farmer’s market with him one day, and he put on one red converse and one orange one and walked out like that. He noticed me watching his feet and said, “Meh,” with a shrug. I laughed because he was right. I know he had exacting standards with his work, but the point of that, “Meh,” was that some things matter and some don’t.
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’d love to inspire a movement to be more authentic, not in a my-Insta-is-quirky-so-I-must-be-authentic way, but in a profound way. Truly allowing the full spectrum of human variance to shine and, with that, more acceptance of the authenticity of others. Society pushes us into narrow ideas of what we’re supposed to be, want, and do. It’s difficult and painful to try to break out, so lots of people don’t. It would be a better world if we were all a little more ourselves and gave other people the space to be more themselves without judgment.
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’m somewhere between Oprah and Martha Stewart here. They are both amazing women who have built empires out of their brands, but they’ve done it in such different ways. Oprah seems to flow into everything, bring joy and generosity to her work, and spread a sense of playfulness to the people around her. Martha leads with perfection and both demands and appreciates uncompromising beauty and talent. They both capitalized on the combination of their greatest strengths and their greatest weaknesses to get where they are. I love that.
How can our readers follow you online?
The best and most personal contact comes in Genetic Rockstars because it’s an ongoing conversation about life, health, productivity and everything else that comes up. Connect with us there at community.tohealthwiththat.com or if you’re really an insta person, I’m @amy_tohealthwiththat.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!