How to Let Go of Perfection to Get Ahead in Your Career

The other day I was on a video call with a client, and I asked her why she chose to work with me as oppose to another coach.

She thought for a minute and then said, “Well, I think it’s because you don’t seem that polished.”

As soon as the words left her mouth, her eyes got wide and she started backpedaling—“No, no! I didn’t mean it THAT way.”

But it was too late, and I was already laughing my head off. I loved it that she decided to fork over her hard-earned cash to someone who didn’t seem to have it all together.

Granted, I’m not as slick and “polished” as some of the other coaches out there, but I like to think that’s one of my advantages.

I’m constantly editing my own life, just like how my clients are making big changes. I’m moving through my own transition, and sometimes that’s not always wrapped up in a pretty bow. And I prefer working with women who are willing to embrace the uncomfortable bits of life.

Another client who struggles with anxiety attacks and depression said it best: “You know what I’m going through.”

It hasn’t always been easy for me to allow my true self to shine. But my career and business have improved by leaps and bounds now that I’ve ditched my perfectionism.

Are you caught up in how you’re perceived at your job or in your business?

Do you sometimes catch yourself censoring parts of your personality?

Here’s how you can let go of perfection to get ahead in your career.

A Editor’s Work is Never Done

I’m a life editor, and you’re a life editor. And just like editors in the publishing world, our work is never done.

You can keep on tweaking aspects of your life to get everything “just right,” but when you think you’re finished, you’ll almost always find something else that can be improved.

The Life Editing Process is a never-ending loop for this same reason. Our lives our constantly changing as we move, switch jobs, get married, start a family, etc. We have to regularly edit our lives to make sure we’re still living our true values and pursuing meaningful goals.

What parts of your career could use some editing?

Are you becoming stagnant by staying at the same level for years and years?

Are you missing out on opportunities because you haven’t embraced a new and improved way of doing your work?

As you know, I recently rebranded my entire website and business. I initially thought about making the change nearly 6 months prior, but I resisted getting out of my comfort zone.

When I finally took the plunge, my client load massively increased and I started attracting more of my ideal followers (Type A personalities who like systematic processes and taking action).

No, My Apartment’s Not On Fire

Last week I was deep into a discussion with a client about how she could turn her business around and get the paying clients she needs to support herself and her business.

I’m sure I just about to say something really profound and magical when we heard it: an ear-piercing beeeeeeep! And then another. And another.

They were testing the fire alarms in my apartment building right smack in the middle of a client call. But what could we do? We soldiered on (talking more loudly) and actually had a super productive call.

And every single client of mine will sooner or later hear a peculiar rar-rar-rar-rar-rar in the background during a call. It’s just my pit bull Skyla gnawing through one of her many chew toys.

Her behavior is completely Pavlovian—as soon as she hears the familiar ringing sound of Skype or Google Hangouts, she’ll grab her toy and park herself right next to my desk.

Yep, we’re real professional around these parts.

How do you handle problems that pop up in your career?

What would you do if you lost your PowerPoint presentation 5 minutes before a big meeting? Would you have a breakdown…or would you embrace imperfection and do your best anyway?

Being a Leader, Not an Idol

The key to being effective in any line of work is to strive to be a leader, not an idol.

A leader shows people the way, mistakes and all. A leader isn’t afraid to say, “I don’t know” or “I’m sorry.” She knows that she helps herself by helping others succeed.

An idol is perfect and untouchable. A idol hides her flaws behind an impenetrable wall. She maintains her power by not sharing her humanity and by diminishing the work of others.

I want you to be a leader in your life and career.

If you’re authentically “you” all the time as a leader, people respect you more. If you make a mistake as an untouchable idol, people will wonder what else you’re hiding from them.

One of my clients sent me a summary of her weekly to-dos and said she’s going to be “un-perfect” as she does her work instead of being paralyzed by perfectionism. Love it!

Let Your Freak Flag Fly

Step 5 of the Life Editing Process is Make White Space for Personal Self-Care. And one of the best ways to care for yourself is to be kind to yourself when things don’t go your way.

Your assignment is to let go of perfection in some way this week. How can you do a less-than-perfect job? How can you show your vulnerability?

How do you embrace imperfection in your work and life?

This post focuses on Step 5 of the Life Editing Process, Make White Space for Personal Self-Care. For more about life editing and what it can do for you, click here.

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  1. Lori on May 7, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Sage, this post is right on target for me! I have so much to say about perfectionism, but I don’t think there is enough room in this comment box to write everything! All I can say is that “perfect” is a grand illusion. “Perfection” always seems to be achievable and attainable, but you can never actually reach it because it doesn’t exist!

    I do love how you shared this story about your client choosing you because you weren’t super polished and perfect. You are a leader, not an idol – just like you wrote about – and that’s why your business will continue to thrive. You’re a REAL girl helping REAL people!!

  2. Niklas J. Blixt on May 4, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    Great read! I’ve always looked at myself as a misfit, I’ve never felt that I’ve been able to melt into my surroundings. As my life has gone by I’ve pivoted more and more to a point where I’ve tried to use it as my strength. I’m working as a session musician and music producer and I think a lot of people think that there’s a right way to do things to become that. I.e you have to have a certain degree or you have to go to a specific type of school. I’ve ditched that whole concept and paved my own way thorough were I am today. I’ve done my fair share of studies in the field of music but, I have no degree. I’ve studied what I wanted to learn. Today I’m using it as sort of my USP, that I’m not like any other. I have a passion and I’m willing to learn anything to help my client to reach their musical goals, I’m driven by the passion for music. I’ll never be perfect, but I’ll defiantly be unique! Isn’t that what makes the big stars stick out, they aren’t shining exactly the way as the one next to itself?

    • Sage Grayson on May 4, 2014 at 8:30 pm

      Misfits unite! 🙂 I love it that you’re using your outsider status to to thrive in your career. And you’re right, being perfect it totally overrated. Thanks for commenting, Niklas.

  3. Rachel G on April 2, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    I can definitely agree that people who seem TOO polished and perfect might be a little more intimidating than helpful!

    • Sage Grayson on April 4, 2014 at 10:57 am

      And who wants to work with someone who’s never had to struggle? Personally, I like working with folks who actually know what I’m going through.

  4. Tracy on March 26, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    I think it is very important to work with people you can relate to and with someone who isn’t promoting something absolutely unattainable.

    Tracy @ Sunny Days and Starry Nights

    • Sage Grayson on March 31, 2014 at 8:20 am

      Thanks, Tracy! I feel the same way. I’d rather strive for attainable goals than aim for the impossible and feel bad about not reaching it.

  5. Rose on March 25, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    Sage – I love this post and I agree, your honesty about your own struggles made me comfortable that you wouldn’t judge me for mine. I am going to try to remember to laugh at myself more. Thanks for being a leader and an example of authenticity.

    • Sage Grayson on March 31, 2014 at 8:22 am

      Thanks, Rose. We all have personal struggles, including me! I like to share my stories so I’m not holding the weight of them all by myself and also so my followers know they’re not alone.

  6. Sarah @ Long Island Nerd on March 24, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    I definitely agree with your clients in the sense that I’d prefer to talk to someone that I know has gone through the same things that I’m going through! I find that I am able to relate to someone who has experienced the things that I’m going through rather than someone who just read something in a book.

    I also love the advice to forget about perfection! Sometimes we are so focused on the small details to achieve that perfection that we miss the bigger picture/message. Love this post 🙂

    • Sage Grayson on March 31, 2014 at 8:25 am

      I learned long ago that I will never be perfect–haha! But it’s more fun being flawed. 🙂

  7. Wayfaring Wanderer on March 24, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    Last week was one of my most productive (so far) this year thanks to you and your support!

    I’m amazed at how your insights and reassurance allowed me to take my overwhelming idea and scale it down so that I could quickly take action.

    I’ve been sitting on a GOLD MINE and I was too fearful to realize it!

    The cash flow is already starting to come in and I’ve booked two CELEBRATE YOU SESSIONS since I launched this new offering last Thursday!

    Thank you, Sage, for helping me to see that I could do this imperfectly without all the “bells and whistles”! 🙂

    • Sage Grayson on March 24, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      You are SOOO welcome, Jessica! I’m proud of you for moving forward with your idea imperfectly. And that’s fantastic that you’re already making money in just 4 days! Keep it up! I believe in you. 🙂