Be intentional about how you spend your time. You need not say yes to every invitation. Ask yourself if it is something that brings you closer to your goals or if it will unnecessarily deplete you.
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 Maria Leonard Olsen.
Maria Leonard Olsen is an attorney, author, radio show host, recovery mentor and podcaster in Washington, D.C. Her latest book, “50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life,” has been used as a vehicle to help thousands of people reinvigorate their lives. Learn more at www.MariaLeonardOlsen.com.
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 grew up in a broken home, when divorce was not common. We were Catholic, so my parents were excommunicated when they divorced. I attended a parochial school and had friends who were not permitted to come to my house because my parents had been thrown out of the church.
My mother was an immigrant from the Philippines. I was the only brown student in my school and neighborhood, and I always felt out of place. I found refuge in books and became and excellent student. My quest for perfectionism started early!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” said Eleanor Roosevelt. It took me a long time to learn that lesson. I gave away my power and was a chronic people-pleaser. I became a chameleon and did not really know who I was until I reached age 50.
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?
“50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life”! At age 50, I got sober, divorced, became an empty nester and was living alone for the first time in my life. I changed almost everything about my life and chronicled the 50 new things I did in my 50th year to determine how I wanted to live the next chapter. The list spanned spiritual endeavors, adventure travel, social activities, physical challenges, learning and teaching. Allowing myself to determine who I really am and dropping the rocks of self-judgment were key to my becoming the confident, authentic version I am today.
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?
Tenacity, because I never gave up on myself, even when I hit rock-bottom as an alcoholic. Resourcefulness, because I was able to find the help I needed. And courage, which is not the absence of fear, but experiencing fear and walking through it. It was scary to start my law career over at age 50, but I did it.
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?
For me, perfectionism encompasses trying too hard at great expense to one’s self. It includes being too self-judgmental and never feeling like one is good enough. I believe in progress, not perfectionism. Perfectionism made me sick.
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?
I did not settle for good enough when practicing law. I attended a top-ten law school and worked at one of the biggest law firms in Washington, DC, followed by a political appointment at the U.S. Department of Justice. I did excellent work and went the extra mile to make my work product the best it could be. As a result, I enjoyed much professional success.
What are the negative aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?
I suffered from anxiety, believing I was an imposter and could never measure up to my own expectations. I was only happy when I obtained outside affirmation of my worth. Now I know that no one is responsible for my happiness but me. It is an inside job.
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?
Perfectionism caused me to worry too much. I never thought I was good enough. I became anxious and depressed. Depression often made me feel stuck and as if there was no way out. Professional help was essential to my recovery. Knowing when to seek help is not a sign of weakness. It is honest, humble and smart.
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.
- Drop the rock of self-judgment. Put down the bat! Would you talk to a friend or loved one the way you talk to yourself in your head?
- You must practice self-care to be your best self. Put on your oxygen mask first. Until you care for yourself, you cannot be the best partner, parent, friend or employee.
- Be intentional about how you spend your time. You need not say yes to every invitation. Ask yourself if it is something that brings you closer to your goals or if it will unnecessarily deplete you.
- Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you. Avoid negative people and energy vampires.
- Perfect is the enemy of good. Strive for balance in everything you do. Let go of things you cannot control.
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?
Non-judgmentalism. How about we all simple live and let live? Respect differences and let love govern.
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!
Lady Gaga. She preaches love and inclusivity, and has been a great source of inspiration to my son (who is a TikTok influencer, @chris).
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!