If you don’t begin, you’ll never finish. If you never do anything to make progress in the direction of your dreams, you’ll inherently stop yourself from even the possibility of bringing them into fruition. With many things in life, there often isn’t a “right time”. Rather than waiting until you “feel motivated” or it’s the “perfect time,” stop waiting around. Often opportunities need to be seized and created rather than simply taken.
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 Emily Mishler of The Cultivated Group.
Born and raised in the rural Midwest of the United States, Emily Mishler is an intrepid optimist with a keen sense of adventure, eye for design, hand in the start-up world, and heart for philanthropy. She is the driving force behind The Cultivated Group and the world of Esmè the Curious Cat — on a mission to ignite and empower individuals and organizations to: “be the change you wish to see in the world”.
Specializing in business development, creative strategic planning, and fundraising, Emily launched her first company at the age of 22 and has since raised and distributed over 20M dollars of private investment for private clients, for-profit entities and NGO’s.
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?
Absolutely — thanks so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here! I grew up on a farm in the middle of the rural United States; finding myself immersed in books and playing outside as much as possible. My parents divorced when I was eight years old and we began moving schools and homes fairly consistently thereafter; seeking to create stability, security and safety through the turbulence. Hard work was praised above anything else and kindness, empathy, generosity, and personal responsibility were emphasized as some of life’s most important pillars.
I had always been an incredibly independent, creative, and determined child — and those characteristics, as well as the agility that often results from of a childhood of trauma and turbulence, have been carried with me to this day. This foundation and these qualities have been the cornerstone of “why” I’ve been able to imagine and create the life I’m now living.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Mahatma Gandhi’s quote “be the change you wish to see in the world” is one that’s provided a lot of inspiration and a discerning lens as the journey of my life has unfolded.
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?
Yes! As I was embarking upon my entrepreneurial journey (mine also included exploring the world solo for a while); Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love has been a story through which I found much inspiration and comradery. The themes of exploration, discovery, openness, courage, and connection have been instrumental as I’ve been both navigating the world itself and the professional world of development and business-building. All of our journeys through life are independent, but I don’t believe that in that they also need to be lonely. There is so much to learn from others and their perspectives, experiences, journeys, and the wisdom they’ve lived — and often when we aren’t sure where to turn, seeking council from others can be an incredible asset. The principles and themes I’ve learned from Liz Gilbert’s stories have been so impactful, I’ve adopted many of them into my own life and they have also become a part of our journey of impact at The Cultivated Group!
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?
- Self-Responsibility, Accountability & Radical Honesty
If you aren’t holding yourself accountable to follow-through on the commitments you make, be them large or small, how can you expect those around you to do the same?
- Leading with Curiosity
We’ve found creating a habit of approaching each situation we’re presented with curiosity and from a space of openness to be the difference between moving forward and staying stuck. Curiosity is the key to forward movement!
- Consistent Focus
As much as it’s contradictory to a lot of what we hear and the kind of results we’d like to see, our aim has always been deliberate, consistent focus and aligned action. Consistency is the difference between becoming wildly successful and getting stuck in a spiral of perfectionism.
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 experience, perfectionism can be a double-edged sword and is a razor’s edge between pursuit of excellence and holding ourselves, and others, to unattainable standards. The dictionary defines perfectionism as “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection” and, I’d agree!
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?
In my opinion, seeking perfection and perfectionism are not one in the same. The pursuit of excellence and having extraordinary standards is absolutely a part of being successful, but those do not require us to engage in perfectionistic thinking or habits.
Those that make the leap from good to great and then from great to exceptional have as a part of their process standards of excellence. That is where elevated standards and excellence intersect. Elevated standards and the pursuit of excellence may also inherently benefit our growth!
What are the negative aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?
The procrastination and feelings of “paralysis” that engaging in perfectionistic thinking can result in have the
ability to be incredibly negative. Often times, what we’ve seen is, when perfectionistic standards are employed (as opposed to standards of excellence) they often result in a slow of progress, increase in stress, and the restriction of creativity. We can often feel paralyzed or “stuck” in our feelings of seeming inferiority and incapability to achieve our desired outcomes, and in doing create a self-fulfilling feeling of paralysis.
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 “paralysis of perfectionism” is something my team, clients and I talk about often. We have incredibly high standards for the quality and character of the people we work with, and also the results of our work. Setting goals and holding ourselves to standards of excellence is a different game than employing and projecting expectations of perfection — and that’s something we hold ourselves accountable for.
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?”
- If you don’t begin, you’ll never finish. If you never do anything to make progress in the direction of your dreams, you’ll inherently stop yourself from even the possibility of bringing them into fruition. With many things in life, there often isn’t a “right time”. Rather than waiting until you “feel motivated” or it’s the “perfect time,” stop waiting around. Often opportunities need to be seized and created rather than simply taken.
- Momentum Compounds & Progress is a Habit. Ideals outcomes exist, perfection doesn’t. Deliberate choice is more powerful than failure. Action begets action. Everything happens one right next step after the other. If the obtaining of the final product seems to be too much, just begin with the next right step. Stop looking and waiting for motivation and do something. Take action–aligned, inspired action–and the motivation will follow. And although there often aren’t perfect times, there do tend to be opportunities that unfold at more opportune times than others. It may not make “the jump” less scary, but it has the potential to soften the landing a bit.
- Everything is a lesson. Didn’t get the job? Lesson. Got the second date? Lesson. Procrastinated on the report and were so stressed you didn’t produce your best work? Lesson. The quality of the life we choose, the places and environments in which we work, and what we tolerate as acceptable in our lives dictate the perspectives we obtain and the life experience we have. Once you begin to see everything as a lesson that leads you to a “more right” direction down the path that you are on, failure becomes obsolete. Failure instantly becomes a non-option. There is always a silver lining, it just may require a bit of creativity to identify and gather tidbits from. When failure becomes obsolete, it unlocks an entirely new dimension of living–what’s the worst that could happen?
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?
Thank you! That’s very kind — and a really tough question, especially considering the state of the world at the moment. If I could inspire a movement, as simple as it sounds, it would be one of leading with radical honesty, curiosity, kindness, consideration, and thoughtfulness.
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’d absolutely love to have lunch with Sara Blakely and her husband, Jesse Itzler. Not only have they both been incredibly successful individually, the pair seems to have “figured out life” too. Raising a family together, encouraging one another, and making the world better along the way. I’d love to be able to learn from and create with them!
How can our readers follow you online?
The Cultivated Group
Esmè the Curious Cat:
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!