Trainer Shaun Zetlin: “Don’t fear fear itself!”

Experiencing mistakes gives you the ability to learn and grow into reaching your highest self. It’s perfectly fine to make a mistake because all mistakes — no matter how large or small — present the opportunity to teach. Again, new opportunities allow for new growth. New growth is vital for change into again becoming your best self. Embrace the […]

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Experiencing mistakes gives you the ability to learn and grow into reaching your highest self. It’s perfectly fine to make a mistake because all mistakes — no matter how large or small — present the opportunity to teach. Again, new opportunities allow for new growth. New growth is vital for change into again becoming your best self. Embrace the potential of this, and then strive to find freedom within it!

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 Shaun Zetlin.

Shaun Zetlin has run his own personal training business for the past 18 years in New York City while holding the Master Trainer status. Shaun the proud winner of Dime Bank ~ Best of Brooklyn’s Best Personal Trainer 2020, the author of the acclaimed Push-up Progression book series and his recent release of Emotional Fitness, and teaches other fitness professionals with the National Academy of Sports Medicine with his course “Push-up Progression Specialist.” Additionally, his writing and fitness advice has been featured in a multitude of books, magazines, websites, television, radio and podcasts including: Health, Men’s Fitness, Prevention, IDEA, Yahoo, The Active Times, The Huff Post, Demos Medical Publishing, Rodale Books, Conde Nast, mindbodygreen, Elephant Journal, Aaptiv, Livestrong, Stack, Fitness Professional Online, Discovery Channel, and the FX Channel.


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?

Despite a fairly typical American suburban upbringing in a small safe town, my childhood ironically presented many challenges from which I’m proud to have become the man I am today. As a child, I struggled with a lack of basic motor skills, was born with clubfeet, developed gynecomastia as a teenager, and was overweight from ages eleven to fourteen. Additionally, I suffered from childhood traumas including sexual assault and bullying. However, I would neither allow myself to remain a “victim,” nor even “average” in life. My path has been that of the classic underdog, full of conscious emotion and subconscious empowerment!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Free yourself to be yourself, if only you could see yourself” is a lyric from U2’s song, Lights of Home. What this lyric means to me is that only you can validate, accept, forgive, empower, and love yourself. That’s how you become emotionally free and ultimately truly happy in life — because happiness is an inside job.

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?

For me — it’s gotta be the movie, Rocky! Rocky is the ultimate hero’s journey with unforgettable themes of the “underdog!” As I mentioned above in regards to my childhood — I can absolutely identify with the “underdog!” Such a hero’s journey is usually told of sorrow and pain, often accompanied with trauma. We cheer excitedly for the hero because there is a hero in all of us. We all want to be Rocky! Although, the hero is more than thousands of people chanting his or her name; the hero is someone with whom we sympathize and understand their pain. We all can empathize with the hero because we all have suffered at some point in our lives. Rocky didn’t win his first fight with Apollo because he actually didn’t need to win. He “went the distance” until the final round. There’s glory in being and becoming the hero — and contrary to a more expected outcome, the hero is defined by the road of his journey, not the destination.

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?

The three character traits that I believe have been the most instrumental for my success are integrity, empathy, and confidence.

Foremost, I choose to radiate integrity in everything that I do in life because there’s no substitute for integrity. Clients, or anyone with whom one does business, are innately smart and savvy. They certainly know when you are not being genuine. Who you are in private should be who you are in public, especially when conducting business! I encourage everyone to choose to embody integrity — and trust me, your customers/clients will see it. Secondly, empathy is critical when working with others because people are emotional beings — no robots here! Demonstrating empathy shows that you not only understand what that person needs (be it a product or service), but that you also understand what they are experiencing. Imagine “being in their shoes” to more fully help them, which is the difference between just selling something vs. selling an experience. Empathy creates an emotional experience which fuels positive reviews and recommendations. Empathy in business is a critical tool for building personal relationships and customer trust & loyalty — both of which are the building blocks of any successful business. Lastly, confidence is paramount in running a business, especially if you are a leader! If you don’t believe in yourself — why should your clients? Confidence doesn’t mean you have to be fully confident 100 percent of the time (as we all have our moments with suffering from self-doubt, or the “Imposter Syndrome”), however, it’s critical to remind yourself of the attributes that made you a business person to begin with. Own your confidence, own your product, share with passion (and integrity!) and you’ll be sure to make the deal!

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?

A perfectionist is someone who suffers from pressure. This pressure, which is self-inflicted, is the result of unrelenting standards and oftentimes impossible terms. It can be defined as needing to be “the best,” regardless of the reality or the circumstances or means of getting there. Perfectionists, all too often, carry past insecurities, false expectations of themselves, guilt, and the pains of other’s mistakes or intensities that they have come to believe are theirs to bear. The range of perfectionism can be wide but the effects must be carefully monitored. Most troubling, perfectionism can take a chronic or even devastating toll on its victim, from the subtlest of daily anxiety to the most overwhelming burden. Perfectionism is what holds a perfectionist accountable for their “dues.” This being said, hopefully the balance of pressure “to be X” can be found close at “Y.”

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?

Conversely, perfection can be a positive and driving force to create real change within us all. For example, given my childhood traumas and misfortunes, my inner need for perfection became a device for me to achieve a long list of accomplishments when I moved to New York City nearly 19 years ago. Perfection was my inspiration to not be considered “average” by instilling hardworking aspirations and energetic ambitions within myself. While I am proud to state that I achieved most of the goals I assigned to myself, I can attest my inner drive to many accomplishments of which I am very proud! Ambition can be a wonderful attribute, and especially so when you can look back and celebrate the “good stuff” too!

What are the negative aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?

Being a perfectionist, all too often, carries past insecurities, false expectations of ourselves, unrelenting standards, guilt, and the pains of other’s mistakes that we have come to believe. In its most extreme, perfectionism can be linked to depression, self-harm, and even suicide.

Surely, you have made a mistake before in your life; have you beat yourself up emotionally for this mistake? If you have done this before, why do you think you emotionally chose to be so unkind to yourself? After all, it was just a mistake and no matter how large or small this mistake, it’s crucial to take the opportunity to learn from this mishap. All mistakes give you the ability to learn and grow into reaching your highest self. When you begin to become cruel to yourself over a mistake and consider yourself “unlovable,” please remember it’s in these moments that you need to love yourself unconditionally.

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?

Areas where perfectionists can get stuck include: not trying anything new for fear of failure, only performing tasks they are “perfect in,” finding fault in a task that they perform, burdening themselves with an enormous amount of pressure, and assigning standards that ultimately are literally “too high” or are literally unattainable. Fixation on achieving certain measures or goals can create potentially unhealthy habits, obsessions, or increase underlying pressure that can cause emotional and/or physical harm.

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.

Foremost, meditate on not “being perfect” because, frankly, it’s impossible. Accept that the term fundamentally is a contradiction. The undue pressure to reach a certain something may just not even be a possibility. Hopefully acceptance of this, brings peace and release.

Secondly, don’t fear fear itself! Experiencing mistakes gives you the ability to learn and grow into reaching your highest self. It’s perfectly fine to make a mistake because all mistakes — no matter how large or small — present the opportunity to teach. Again, new opportunities allow for new growth. New growth is vital for change into again becoming your best self. Embrace the potential of this, and then strive to find freedom within it!

Thirdly, embrace your faults. We all have faults. The phrase “no one is perfect” exists for a reason. By embracing your faults you will naturally reduce the pressure to be perfect. Celebrate the salvation in being imperfect!

Fourthly, please stop with the unrelenting standards! These standards that you assign to yourself are unobtainable. They cannot be achieved since these aren’t realistic goals! Please be gentle with yourself again and treat yourself to standards that you would with someone that you love.

Lastly, please remember that you are lovable and you don’t need to be perfect to be loved. You can have faults, make mistakes, and be flawed. These all make you human, lovable, and worthy of love!

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 would encourage the world and everyone to lead with kindness. Are you having a tough day? Is everything going wrong today? Do you just want to give up and go home? It’s so important to understand that while negativity can be contagious and a self-fulfilling prophecy of suffering, we can just as easily conversely flip our thoughts into an emotional decision towards kindness. Being kind does NOT make you weak or vulnerable. Please remember that being kind to yourself and others is fundamental towards your emotional growth.

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!

Great question! If I could chose one person to have lunch with right now it would be my very dear friend, Brad Chain. Brad was one of my closest friends and passed away suddenly earlier this year from heart failure. He was as good a person that you could hope to meet. He was kind, smart, funny, caring, and incredibly empathic. It was such as honor to call him my close friend of almost 18 years. I’d love to be in his company again, praising him over lunch for how much we all love, and cherish, and miss him.

If I could have lunch with someone that I have ever met it would be my childhood idol, Bono, from U2. His poetic lyrics, soaring vocals, and philanthropic work are incredibly inspiring to me. I have learned from his lyrics and his tragedies for decades, particularly as he embodies a person who literally channels his pains to create a better place for us all through his emotive and deeply meaningful music.

How can our readers follow you online?

I would be honored to have your readers follow me at www.zetlinfitness.com and via @zetlinfitness on Facebook & Instagram.

Thank you so much for the time and for this incredible platform for allowing me to share!

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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