Create a new relationship with failure. Many grow up thinking that failure is something that should be avoided at all costs. I’ve learned that couldn’t be further from the truth. I try to fail as often and as quickly as possible, and while I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy failure, I’ve learned to see it for what it actually is. It doesn’t mean I’m inadequate. It means I’ve identified one idea or solution that doesn’t work on my path to finding one that does.
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 Shauna Nuckles.
Shauna Nuckles is on a mission to destress the public relations industry. She’s the founder of Advocation, which provides team training and strategic operations support for PR agencies. Using expertise gained from running multiple PR, marketing & social media firms, her programs transform agency processes and professional development programs to reduce stress without sacrificing results.
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?
Thank you so much for having me! I’m honored to share a little bit about my story with you.
I grew up in a small town in Northern Idaho. It was picturesque and a great place to spend a childhood, with beautiful lakes, mountains, rivers, hiking trails and forests everywhere.
While beautiful, it also had an ugly underbelly as the Aryan Nation capital of the world.
When people learn that I grew up there, they are appalled. I hear “It must be SO racist.” “OMG the people there must be horrible.” They are shocked to hear that they’re not — 99% of the people are good, kind and loving who want to do the right thing.
I had great parents, family and friends who definitely did not subscribe to or share any type of racist ideology. However, growing up in a place with such an exaggerated lack of diversity shaped me into the person I am.
Homogeneous groups in which everyone looks and thinks exactly alike have always felt very unsafe. Today, I joke that if I walk into a room and everyone looks like me, I worry that I’ve stepped into a cult. Throughout my childhood and teen years, though, my desire for diversity of thought was the driving force in how I spent my time.
I was constantly making friends with people who thought differently than I did, reading about topics I didn’t understand and trying new things and experiences. It came naturally to me, and I didn’t realize until adulthood that it’s a unique quality to work so hard to deeply understand what I know nothing about.
I also participated in a lot of extracurricular activities. My parents instilled the importance of hard work at a very young age. Paired with natural competitiveness, I always strived to be the best at anything I ever did. I was a top-ranked synchronized swimmer, state champion varsity cheerleader and salutatorian of my high school class.
When I got to college, my desire to achieve served me well until it didn’t. I graduated in just three years, taking essentially a gap year to work a full-time job and save money to help pay for the rest of my schooling. I snagged coveted internships, wrote for the university newspaper and did my best to actually enjoy my college years, too.
And then, I burned out — badly. I realized that hustling was my default, and ever since, I’ve been on a path of deconditioning. I learned that when not reigned in, my desire to be the best I can be is a quality that can easily drive me into the ground. Now, deployed strategically and with balance, I use it to make a difference in my industry.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I love quotes and always have phrases or mantras that serve as helpful reminders and motivators at different stages of my life.
One that I always love, though, is:
“Perfection is the enemy of progress.” — Winston Churchill
Progress is one of the core values at our company, and on the topic of perfectionism, it’s such an important reminder that striving to be “perfect” or “right” can often hold us back instead of helping us reach our goals.
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?
There are so many! As I mentioned above, learning has always been a core part of who I am.
The books and podcasts that have had the biggest impact always coincide with a pivotal moment in life.
Two that stand out include:
- The podcast Entrepreneur on Fire. The show interviews a different entrepreneur every single day, providing a seemingly never-ending wealth of insider information from a variety of industries. I found this podcast as I was honing my own business acumen and leveling up in my career. I was commuting each day, sometimes more than an hour each way and loved listening in on these conversations in which business owners so generously shared their stories, successes and failures. The show fast-tracked and supercharged my business chops, and many of the tips and strategies I learned on this podcast set me up for big wins in my career and business.
- Dare to Lead by Brené Brown. I love anything that Brené Brown produces. This book is not only full of wisdom for anyone who is or wants to be in a position of leadership, but it also shifts the narrative on what a leader is and can be. The book just so happened to get released right as I was facing a very challenging personal time. I was the caretaker for a family member who was in the hospital with a life-threatening health issue, and I listened to Dare to Lead on audio back and forth between home and the hospital. It provided the inspiration and insight I needed to show up with courage and vulnerability.
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?
- Focusing on incremental progress. As I mentioned, progress is one of our company’s core values. Much of our success comes from striving to get just a little better each day. Throughout my life, focusing on small, regular wins has always helped me reach big scary goals. In everything I’ve done, from synchronized swimming to launching a new business, a commitment to showing up every day to get one inch closer to my destination has always served me well.
- An abundance mindset. It may seem counterintuitive, but a core part of my success has been the belief that there’s enough available for everyone. This mindset came from my grandmother. She taught me many life lessons, but I think this was the most important.
She lived through the Great Depression when food, water and even shelter weren’t a guarantee. Despite that, she never held back her generosity, sharing nearly everything she had and offering a sense of community and support to everyone around her.
She never lived her life like there wasn’t enough to go around and always believed there was room for one more seat at her table. Now, that’s how I operate in business.
- The ability to set boundaries. I learned the lesson of setting professional boundaries the hard way. I’d started my PR career as an intern packing press kits and eventually became number two inside of an award-winning agency. It seemed like I’d “made it,” but my health told another story.
I was regularly putting in 12–16+ hour days, and that took a toll in more ways than I can count. My doctor gave me an ultimatum — you might have six months to keep working like this before your body forces you to stop.
So, I had to find a new way to work. I spent roughly the next year having countless uncomfortable conversations and allowing myself to be more vulnerable than I’d ever been in my career.
That experience was difficult, but it became a masterclass in setting boundaries. As an entrepreneur, boundaries on what I say yes to, how I spend my time and what I have the energy for are a critical part of my success.
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?
Perfectionism is the false belief that if someone does everything “perfect” or “right,” they’ll succeed and be accepted by others.
It’s ingrained into us by society. Teachers, coaches, parents, friends, managers and others perpetuate it by implying it’s the only way to succeed, and unfortunately, they usually believe that because it was taught to them. However, perfection is subjective, so it will always be just out of reach.
For example, think about the “perfect” afternoon. My definition is going to be completely different from the person sitting next to me.
Striving for “perfect” keeps people trapped, creating a vicious and often destructive cycle in which nothing is ever good enough.
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 is a big difference between perfectionism and striving for excellence.
I view perfectionism as a drug that’s incredibly difficult to get off of because you’re continuously chasing a high that doesn’t exist. For that reason, I refer to myself as a “recovering perfectionist.”
Striving for excellence is not perfectionism. It’s the antithesis of it. You really have to become okay with showing up imperfectly day after day as you’re striving to do your best.
What are the negative aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?
- Putting up a wall between oneself and others. Perfectionism can breed feelings of inadequacy and shame as people believe they’re not measuring up to or meeting the expectations of those around them. This can lead to a variety of challenges ranging from feeling disconnected to self-isolation, which can be incredibly damaging to long-term mental health.
- Increased levels of stress & burnout. Perfectionism is stressful. Beyond it being an entirely un-fun way to live, constant stress decreases our ability to think clearly and it negatively impacts our overall well-being. Studies have shown that stress can be just as harmful to one’s health as smoking. Stress is also unsustainable, and when left unchecked, it can lead to serious burnout. Unfortunately, when perfectionists experience burnout, it feels like their worst fear has come true — failure. Instead of taking burnout as a sign that the body needs to slow down and rest, perfectionists can view it to mean they need to try even harder.
- Inability to see the big picture. Often, perfectionists are also overly self-focused. When someone maintains a very narrow view of the world or their circumstances, it’s difficult to see anything beyond what’s right in front of them. This can lead to damaging personal and professional relationships as well as missing out on big opportunities because they’ve gone unnoticed.
A daily dose of perspective is a great way to keep perfectionism in check.
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 my experience, perfectionists get stuck because they fear judgment from those around them.
Humans have always been social beings. For ages, it’s how we survived. Our unconscious brains tell us it’s unsafe to be criticized by our community. This is hard-wired in our brains, dating back to a time when getting kicked out of the cave truly meant life or death.
For most of us, we won’t be devoured by a bear if we are criticized by our community, but our unconscious brains can’t tell the difference.
Perfectionism can be a defense mechanism to avoid what feels like an unsafe situation (criticism).
Unfortunately, someone is always going to judge, and I’ve found that when I’m doing my best work, it attracts the most criticism from others.
For me, I don’t think that the fear of criticism will ever go away, but I put my conscious brain in the driver’s seat and keep moving even if I’m scared.
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?”
- Create a new relationship with failure. Many grow up thinking that failure is something that should be avoided at all costs. I’ve learned that couldn’t be further from the truth. I try to fail as often and as quickly as possible, and while I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy failure, I’ve learned to see it for what it actually is. It doesn’t mean I’m inadequate. It means I’ve identified one idea or solution that doesn’t work on my path to finding one that does.
- The journey is the point. Highly driven and ambitious individuals are usually motivated to get to the finish line. It’s a bit morbid to say, but the finish line for all of us is death. There will always be another goal or destination we’re striving to reach, but the journey of getting there is life. Enjoy it.
- We’re people, not robots. Machines are evaluated based on what they produce. Human beings are not machines, and our worthiness shouldn’t be tied to our productivity. I’ve found that when my top focus is how productive I am at work, it’s easy to slip back into perfectionist behaviors. This one is tough because I love my work, but we are not our jobs, and it’s dangerous to believe we are.
- Get clear on what’s important. Early in my career, I took the time to deeply understand my personal values. I audit them annually, and it helps me stay grounded in what’s truly important. They serve as my North Star, and when I’m tempted to get caught up in perfectionist behavior, I can quickly course correct and let go of what doesn’t matter in the big picture.
- Give yourself a limit to dwell. Perfectionism and overthinking often go together like PB&J. Something I’ve found to be incredibly helpful is setting a limit for the amount of time I allow myself to think about what went wrong (or what could go wrong in the future).
Instead of having an unlimited amount of time to worry or dwell, create a container for it. You could allow 30 minutes to journal on something to identify the lesson you need to take away or create a weekly check-in date with yourself to think about what you’d do differently in the future. I’ve found that if left unchecked, this type of thinking can easily spiral into a continuous loop of self-criticism and negative self-talk, which is never helpful or productive.
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 believe more ethical capitalism is the movement that would bring the most good to the most people.
I am hopeful that this will continue gaining momentum in the years ahead. Many companies have shown us that it’s possible to be wildly successful while taking care of those who work for you. Additionally, I believe the pandemic proved that organizations prioritizing profits above all else will lose trust, and now, many are held responsible by the court of public opinion.
Business is where much of the world’s innovation occurs. We can innovate to take care of the planet and the people around us.
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 sit down and speak with Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. She’s not just an incredibly savvy business owner, but she’s done so much to pave the way for the women-owned businesses that came after her.
In an interview, she once said that as she was beginning her company, a colleague told her to prepare herself because business is war. She rejected that idea, and instead, set out to create success on her own terms. That resonates with me so much. Our business is growing slowly on purpose because we’re extra mindful about not repeating and replicating a business model or working environment that we never enjoyed in the first place.
I’m 1000% positive that Sara Blakely would be a wealth of information and insights on that topic.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!