The biggest thing about being a perfectionist is that it’s easy to fall into certain thought patterns that hold you back, but as soon as you recognize those patterns, you can start to form new habits. For me, a lot of it was just recognizing poor habits and changing them, and also being more realistic about what I’m capable of. I think it took me a long time to understand that I’m just a human, and I’m bound in all the ways that humans are bound, and it’s okay to slow down or take a break or make mistakes, because that’s just part of what everyone needs.
Many successful people are perfectionists. At the same time, they have the ability to say, “Done is Better Than Perfect” and just wrap up a project. What is the best way to overcome the stalling and procrastination caused by perfectionism? How does one overcome the fear of 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 their stories about how to overcome the hesitation caused by perfectionism.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing fantasy author S.G. Prince. Prince spoke to me from her home in Seattle where she resides with her husband and their two dogs. Though her upcoming books run a gambit of settings and genres, her work tends to include outcasts, secrets, magic and forbidden love. Prince is best known for her debut fantasy series The Elvish Trilogy, which is set to release its final title “Ember” this July.
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 fairly idyllic, though I suppose it wouldn’t look that way on paper. My parents divorced when I was ten, and we moved around a lot, which made it difficult to make and keep friends. Despite that, I have basically nothing but good memories from those years. I spent a lot of time playing make-believe with stuffed animals, reading, and writing stories.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Never give up on a goal because of the time it will take to accomplish it. That time will pass anyway.” I love this quote. I discovered it ages ago and it still gets to me. Writing a book can take months, sometimes years, and it’s easy to want to give up. I think this quote is essential; don’t give up on long goals, because that time really will pass anyway.
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?
The book “Quiet” by Susan Cain. I recommend it to everyone, but particularly to introverts. Before reading Cain’s book, I actually didn’t know that I was an introvert. Her take on the subject gave me a lot of peace over pieces of myself that I didn’t understand. It was a real eye opener.
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?
Discipline, passion and a pretty hefty dose of optimism. The thing about being an author is that it’s easy to put things off. Deadlines can be months away. There isn’t usually a lot of urgency, so it’s easy to say, “Eh, I’ll just do it later.” For me, I think it took a lot of discipline to sit down with the same book month after month and just be like, “I’m going to keep going, I’ve got to keep working on this.”
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?
I think a perfectionist is someone who sets unrealistically high goals for themselves. They’re the kind of person who strives to be perfect, which is obviously impossible, so they end up getting stuck or quitting projects because they think their work isn’t good enough.
The premise of this interview series is that perfectionism is not a positive thing. But presumably, seeking perfection can’t be entirely bad. What are the positive aspects of being a perfectionist?
I suppose all that striving for perfection isn’t for nothing. Perfectionists do tend to be high achievers, even if they’re struggling mentally and emotionally along the way.
What are the negative aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?
The biggest issue with perfectionism is that it’s a lie. As an author, you think that if you write the perfect book, everyone will love it, and they’ll love you, and you won’t get a single critical review. But the world just doesn’t work like that. Have you ever come across a book that you loved but someone else gave it a one star review? And in your head, you’re just thinking, “That’s not possible, how could anyone hate this book?” But that’s what I mean. There will always be good and bad opinions on every topic, and that’s okay. That’s just life. Trying to be perfect to avoid criticism is a huge waste of energy.
From your experience or perspective, what are some of the common reasons that perfectionists “get stuck?” Can you explain?
In my own work, I tend to get stuck when my book is in its earliest draft. It’s almost like, I know I need to keep writing in order to flesh out the plot, but I also want to start polishing what I’ve already written. It actually gets harder as the manuscript progresses because the amount of “imperfect” work just continues to build, and I start to feel that itch to go back and fix it. Except, I can’t do that, because I need to keep moving forward. It becomes a bit of a mess.
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.
The first step is to just recognize that you’re a perfectionist. I think it can be hard to be honest with yourself in this way, but it’s pretty vital to overcoming perfectionism because once you understand your own thought patterns you can start to change them. For me, I’ve found that it really helps to focus on the positives, give myself room to make mistakes, set more reasonable goals (in my case, that means longer book deadlines), and also spend less time on social media (because we all know how bad social media is for mental health).
The biggest thing about being a perfectionist is that it’s easy to fall into certain thought patterns that hold you back, but as soon as you recognize those patterns, you can start to form new habits. For me, a lot of it was just recognizing poor habits and changing them, and also being more realistic about what I’m capable of. I think it took me a long time to understand that I’m just a human, and I’m bound in all the ways that humans are bound, and it’s okay to slow down or take a break or make mistakes because that’s just part of what everyone needs.
I also think that it’s fine to keep striving towards goals, as long as you don’t give up if you feel like you aren’t reaching them in the way that you expected, or as fast as you had wanted. One of the biggest things that you can do to overcome perfectionism is to be more agile, and to remake your plan rather than quit if things aren’t going as planned.
I don’t ever think of anything as final these days. There is no point of ultimate failure. There’s just the act of trying, and either succeeding or trying again.
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!
Yes, oh my gosh, V.E. Schwab is my author idol, if I could have lunch with her I would melt into my shoes. Please let’s make this happen.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can follow me on Instagram at @s.g.prince or Twitter @sarahgprince, or you can visit my website sgprince.com to sign up for my email newsletter.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!