Give yourself permission to suck

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Fall_down_1In this month’s ezine, I share my lifelong struggle with perfectionism, a characteristic identified by a school buddy in fourth grade in our new-age encounter group called "rap."  She said that I always had to be "Perfect Pam" and it bugged her.  (I grew up in Marin County, California which was the hotbed of touchy-feely education in the 1970’s.)

Although my work life has been far from "perfect," I do get hung up occasionally when I receive criticism or prepare to launch a new project. 

This mentality can be deadly for new entrepreneurs, as you have to get your ideas winging out in front of your customers and peers if you want to make headway on starting and growing your business.  My mentor Andrea Lee summed it up with the liberating phrase:

Give yourself permission to suck!

I have the full article here, but here are some tips for shaking yourself free from the bonds of perfectionism:

  • If you have been in business for awhile and want to offer something new to your clients without making it free, call your first offering a "pilot" program and give participants a discount in exchange for some feedback. If they know that they are participating in something that is still under development, they are more likely to be very helpful with feedback and not critical of your program.
  • Identify a "mastermind partner" who is in a similar place as you are and offer to exchange feedback on each other’s work in progress. Just knowing that a peer that you respect struggles with similar issues will help you break out of paralysis.
  • Join a business forum for your industry and participate in a discussion board. I see this all the time in many industries from coaching to software development, and I am amazed at how thoughtful and detailed peer feedback can be.
  • Identify a group of test users to give feedback before you release a product for sale. Invite some friends or clients to participate in a pilot or trial. Give them the final version for free as thanks for their feedback. (An added bonus: if they enjoy the product, they can offer you a testimonial to use in your marketing materials)
  • Let people know that you are releasing a product or service in stages, and set expectations for eventual upgrades. As an example, I recently started a podcast and knew that I didn’t have everything I wanted in place for the ultimate product. But I wanted to start it, so every two weeks when I record a new one, I upgrade one part of the program. The first show I used recording software that was not my ultimate choice. But it was good enough. The next time I used the right software. Then I moved the programs to the correct hosting platform and provided subscription information. Next I will include a professionally recorded introduction and music. Because I keep my listeners informed of my progress along the way (and share information with them about how I am doing it in case they want to do the same thing) I don’t worry about having to have everything in place before starting the new project.

Am I the only one that has struggled with the nagging feeling that everything I do or write is a piece of crap?  What have you done to overcome this feeling?

11 Responses to “Give yourself permission to suck”

  1. Bruce DeBoer says:

    I like the idea. In fact, I have a blog called

    Love it Bruce!


  2. Leo Archer says:

    Who needs loads of time and money?

    As a new entrepreneur you would be excused for thinking you need two things above all to translate your excellent ideas into marketable products and services: loads of time and money. According to Creating Passionate Users, this may just be

  3. Lena L. West says:

    This was a GREAT blog post.

    There are two people who share the same message.

    One is Michael Masterson, who always says, “Ready. Fire. Aim”.

    I like that one but, my favorite is from my mentor Michele Phillips. She says, “Go ugly early.” LOVE IT!

    -Lena West

  4. Mark says:

    “release early and often”, couldn’t agree more. What helped me break out of paralysis through over-analysis (perfectionism) was the realisation that keeping decisions small and thinking of them as only temporary makes them easy to make, and easier to go back on if they’re wrong.

    If an issue is taking too much deliberation I break it down into smaller issues which are easier to decide on. Get it out there, get people in front it of, then revise and enhance.

  5. Frank says:

    Taking a particularly long set of flights today, I stopped in the book store at the airport and picked up a book about Carly Fiorina’s time at HP. One of her catch phases, incorporated in to the title of the book, is “Perfect Enough”. I’m not finished with it yet but I think its a reasonable read and relates to what you are saying here.

    Amazon link (no commission)

  6. First off, I love the new headshot.

    Thanks for the great idea of offerering your product as a pilot first. This is very timely as I’m about to do some joint ventures with a colleague and I will push for this when we meet on Saturday.

    I love what you’re doing with your podcast. I understand that you want to “jazz it up” but you’re already doing a great job – I can’t believe how fluent and arrticulate you are. No ums at all!

    I know you didn’t write this for the “great job” comments BUT you are doing a great job. I consider your blog posts and newsletters one of the best I receive. So keep up the good writing.


  7. One thing that gets me through the “not good enough ” blues…

    My brother told me a story about two real estate agents who worked differently. One sent out perfectly scripted mailers and the other called people around dinnertime, something you are not supposed to do. Guess who sold more houses? The person who made the phone calls. You see the “right thing” to do was to make personal contacts not write letters that ended up in the trash. The moral is that it is better to do the right thing wrong then the wrong things right.

    This helps me get stuff out the door. That, and my mantra, “Inner peace through lowered expectations”

    Keep rocking the free world.


  8. about the ‘crap’ business

    One of the reasons that I am not a writer because every time that I’ve tried to write (fiction), I’ve embarrassed myself. A friend of mine who I think is a very good writer told me that the way to get over that is to write, write, write… I’m not planning to becuase I really am not a writer, but it is good advice

    PS is that you in Sedona?

    Hi Vlad!

    Yes, I have heard the same advice about writing. It is true! That must be why God invented blogging. And who is to say who is a true “writer” anymore … a writer is as a writer does. If you have things to say, then by all means say them.

    And YES, that is me in Sedona! When I did the last photo shoot for some updated headshots, I decided to take them in the place that we are planning to live in a few years from now. My hubbie and I believe very much in the power of positive thinking, so we figured that if we visualize ourselves there already, we are more likely to get there sooner! So far so good … all plans are leaning towards building our house in 3 years or so.


  9. Carla Golden says:

    Pam, you’ve done it once more–been on the same wavelength with what I’ve been dealing with. I have been looking for the predominant theme in my memoir for positioning purposes. It came to me last week that it is about my problem with being a perfectionist. It has been an issue for me my whole life and I’ve learned to become aware of when it is getting in my way and to keep a sense of humor about it. (I loved the title of your newest post/newsletter) The title of my book has changed. It is now From Playboy to Pulpit: Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist.

  10. Frank Schophuizen says:

    I hate your question, because (a) I can’t believe you seriously think that bad about yourself and (b) it’s quite arrogant to ask others to deny that you’re doing or writing crap as a way to emphasize how good you are.

    Nevertheless, I do think that most of what you write makes sense and is not crap at all, at least most of it isn’t.

    I just read Bob Sutton’s blog about foul language, in his case the use of “asshole”, when the “sucks” in your title caught my eye. It made me think that with the lack of non-verbal communication in written language we apparently need words with a specific emotional value. They capture so much more than correct and sterile sentenses.

    Iam glad you write crap now and then, as it leave something to think about for us.


    Hi Frank:

    Good points that I would like to clarify a bit:

    My question has some humor in it, since most of us don’t think that what we write or do is crap ALL the time … but I will say that at certain points of my working career I did have serious bouts of inner doubt, critical voices or concern that although I might feel “in the flow” with what I was doing that I was way off base for my clients or readers.

    My Dad, sister and I talk about this issue a lot. My Dad is a photographer and has been for over 40 years. He is very good and has gotten some nice awards, great feedback, etc. for his work. But he says that before he submits a job to a client he sometimes has the fleeting thought that they won’t like it, or it is the wrong shot, or whatever.

    I think that most people have varying degrees of self-doubt. In fact, some of the most talented people I know have the most fear about the quality of their work. What I aim to do with this post is to shake myself and others out of being so serious and self-critical so that we just get work out there into daylight.

    I did not write this to get a flood of “oh no, you are so great Pam!” responses. That was not my intention at all. I just have to believe that I am not the only one that struggles with self-doubt, and the more we get it out in the open, the better.

    If this post did suck for you, however, I have accomplished my point.

    Thanks for writing!



    P.S. I just read Bob’s article and totally agree with you. There are times when “inappropriate” language is the appropriate choice. I spent so many YEARS being hyper-sensitive to language used in a corporate setting that I am consciously dis-obeying rules now that I have my own platform (this blog). I hardly ever use profanity or crass language in everyday life, but there are times when it just is a juicier way to explain an emotionally-charged topic (like Bob’s book about Assholes in the workplace).

  11. Anne says:

    Oh my gosh, no, you are not the only one with that feeling. I’ve just put together my first podcast and it is definitely a piece of crap!

    Your post has made me feel better. I’m going to bookmark it and when I feel this way in the future I’ll reread it.

    I also remember my dad’s comment to me about skiing: if you’re not falling down, you’re not challenging yourself. My husband and I have translated that into “if you’re not feeling like a dork, you’re not challenging yourself.” We’ve both found that work is a great place to feel dorky, but that feeling dorky is sometimes required to make forward progress.