How Not Being Perfect Helped Me Serve My Clients

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I just held two live client events in six weeks. And while both events were fabulous and wonderful and successful and invigorating and I wouldn’t change a dang thing about either of them (well, maybe next time) . . . it was not only difficult, it was absolutely crazy.

It sounded like a good idea six months ago when I started planning them. Last December, when it was cold and snowy in Michigan, I could pretend that May and June were way out in the distance. I could pretend I had lots of time to plan. I could even convince myself that while I was planning one event, I might as well plan two. Economy of scale and all that.

It seemed like it would be easy

It was okay in the early planning stages. My business partner for our ADHD business coaching and I decided to design a 5-part virtual course in the months leading up to our live event, so I decided to do a 5-part virtual course leading up to the live event for my creative business owners, too. Jacqui (my business partner) and I started marketing our virtual course first, so I started marketing my virtual course for my other business a few weeks later.

Easy peasy. I would simply implement the actions we took in the first business, after a short lag, for my second business.

No big deal. And I would learn so much!

Then things started to overlap

There was only one problem: the marketing and virtual classes started to overlap. When we started marketing the actual event for the joint ADHD business and I then followed with mine for my creatives, things got pretty confusing. There were lots of moving parts.

And things started to compound

Did I say there was only one problem? Umm, I lied.

My husband, bless his heart (hey, that’s funny), chose an inconvenient time – exactly eight days before the first retreat — to require quadruple bypass open heart surgery. Off to the hospital with him.

“Cancel your event,” my mother said. “People do that.”

I couldn’t, I told her, between my trips to the hospital and conferences with surgeons and specialists. People had flights. Money had been spent. We had planned so much. Besides, hub will probably still be in the hospital, in good hands, during the first retreat.

Sensing something in the air, my doglet, Amazing Grace, decided to get colitis and required a 1:00 am trip to the doggy ER, followed by three days of tarry black stools — in the house. Who wants to go potty outside when you’re sick? Her poor bum was hurting, so she cried a lot, at night. She only kept me awake all night for two nights, bless her heart. The vet did lots of tests, gave her subcutaneous fluids, steroids, and pain meds, and put her on antibiotics. He wondered if it might be stress related.

And things started breaking

At exactly the same time, my clothes dryer died. The new one could be delivered in three days, which was good, but I already had two weeks worth of dirty laundry piling up and Jacqui flying in soon from Montreal. I was able to get sheets for the bed clean and wet, but not dry. Her sheets were a bit on the crispy side, but they did finally dry after hanging in the basement for two days.

When the replacement dryer was delivered, it could not be installed because our basement plumbing was not up to code.

Seriously? Did I mention the dirty laundry? No problem, I know a plumber, who could come the very next day . . . to a basement filled with gas. The delivery guys had not closed the gas outlet after discovering they couldn’t install the dryer the day before.

And they sent my husband home

Of course, the hospital did not comply and keep him, so back to our event-stressed, dog-potty, laundry-dirty, gas-fumed, dryer-less home came my much-hurting and weak-as-a-kitten husband, with a 12” gash down the middle of his chest and each inner calf, and I pictured the headlines in my brain: “Obsessed woman gasses new heart surgery survivor to death in her quest to both wash and dry sheets.” Along with his physical presence came the implicit instructions: shower every day with special soap and six clean white washcloths. Six clean white washcloths. Fresh every day. Do not reuse them. Wear a clean white t-shirt every day.

I was seeing dirty laundry in my sleep. I bought two dozen white washcloths and prayed they would multiply.

Somehow things kept rolling along

I picked Jacqui up at the airport, my grown son arrived (along with the new sheets I asked him to buy at Target so he could make up a bed for himself) to stay with hub, making sure his life was safe while I was gone at the event, the plumber plumbed and eventually made my house dryer friendly, and Jacqui and I finished writing our presentation, binding our handouts, and attending to last-minute details for the retreat.

How did I keep from cracking?

So what was going through my mind? What kept me going? How did I get through life-threatening major surgery with my husband, two back-to-back, original live events, and life doing what it does to trip you up, all at the same time, and all at the last minute?

One of my clients asked me these questions recently. She wanted to know what I could teach others about getting through tough stuff and still getting the work done and being able to perform and deliver for my clients. (At that point, all she knew was that I’d had two events in six weeks, and that my husband had just had open-heart surgery. She didn’t know about the dryer and the gas and the plumber and the dog poop and the animal emergency room and the wet sheets with house guests and the six washcloths every day . . . )

Do you want to know the truth? Do you want to know what was going through my mind as Jacqui and I made our final preparations that day, and packed the car to leave for the hotel?

This is exactly what I was thinking

“I’ve got to get out of this crazy house! I’ve got to get through this event. I’ve got to get my husband on an even keel. Then somehow, I’ve got to get through the next event. And then — then, when my second event is successfully over, I will block out time on my calendar for a crash and meltdown.”

And that’s what I did.

Well, I didn’t exactly have a meltdown. But I did block off a week after each event to crash. I think I slept for three whole days after the second one.

There was really only one thing that got me through it all

No, these are not the usual circumstances one would expect when planning to do two events at the same time. But life does happen. And as I reflect, because my client asked me to, about what it was that really got me through the last two months, I realize there was only one thing.

It was because I never expected any of it to be perfect

I used to expect things to be perfect. When I first started my marketing communications firm, it drove me crazy if anything went out the door without being as close to perfect as we could make it. I mean, everything had my name on it, you know?

But since then, a lot of water has passed under the bridge. In my creative firm, I realized the people I hired were brilliant thinkers and talented designers. I managed to let go of the stranglehold I had on the creative direction of our client projects, and let others control some of the creativity, ideas, and strategy. To concentrate more on running a good business than on how things that were not “perfectly the way I would have done them” would reflect on me. More recently, I’ve gone into a tailspin, lost my mojo, then picked myself back up and found it again. And through life, I’ve learned how toxic trying to be perfect can be.

Not trying to be perfect sure saved me this time

I know the retreat Jacqui and I put on for our ADHD business clients was darned good. We made a deep impact. But it wasn’t perfect. We’ve got a list of things to improve for next time.

Still, people told us the event was “brilliant,” “life changing,” and the “single best experience I’ve had in years.”

And I know the retreat I just finished for my creative business clients was pretty dang good, too, but it was also far from perfect. (If you’re a designer, you’ll appreciate this – my forms and handouts didn’t match each other, and none of them coordinated with my slides! Because 80% of the attendees were graphic designers [ouch!] – that would have sent me into a tailspin during my Perfection Era).

Still, people called the event “outstanding,” “awesome,” “intense,” “deep thinking,” and “stellar.”

I knew from the beginning that neither of these events would be perfect. That took a lot of pressure off of me, and allowed me to keep moving forward. I knew my best was very good, and that I could deliver great value — even as I was being distracted by life happening around me.

But perfection? Nah, I knew it wasn’t going to happen.

I read something about perfectionism recently on Bryn Mooth’s blog that struck me between the eyes. I actually read it between my first and second event, and it reassured me.

Bryn is an independent journalist and copywriter I met years ago when she led the HOW magazine brand and the HOW Design Conference.

Bryn says it perfectly:

“Let go of perfection. Wow, this is hard. As creative pros, we expect our work to speak for us, to represent us, to be us out in the world. Anything less than perfect feels unacceptable. But here’s the thing: The world doesn’t need—or even want—perfect. The world—and our clients, and their customers and, more important, our mental and financial well-being—needs our best work, not our perfect work. When you overwork a project to perfection, you overspend the time and budget you’ve allocated. As a creative pro, overdelivery is a sure route to burnout and cash-flow problems. Repeat after me: Good is great.”

Repeat after me: Good is great.

And no one talks about the roots of perfectionism better than social work research professor, author, and TED presenter Brene Brown:

“The quest for perfection is exhausting and unrelenting, but as hard as we try, we can’t turn off the tapes that fill our heads with messages like “Never good enough” and “What will people think?” Why, when we know that there’s no such thing as perfect, do most of us spend an incredible amount of time and energy trying to be everything to everyone? Is it that we really admire perfection? No — the truth is that we are actually drawn to people who are real and down-to-earth. We love authenticity and we know that life is messy and imperfect.

We get sucked into perfection for one very simple reason: We believe perfection will protect us. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.”

Ouch. Dr. Brown digs under the skin with her observations. Okay, Brene! I’m working on it!

So it’s good I didn’t plan on being perfect

If I had tried to have perfect events, I think I may have actually crashed and burned instead of being able to continue putting one foot in front of the other. Yes, these last two months have been crazy, life has intervened, things have gone wrong, and I’ve had to punt a lot, but after a short time out, I’m ready to get back in the fray. My husband is healing well, I’m having a great time following up with the people who came to my events, the dryer issue is just a memory (and I can power dry as many washcloths and sheets as you can throw at me), and Amazing Grace’s little bum is amazing once more. :)

It took me a long time to accept not being and doing perfect

It’s taken me a long time to get here. To be comfortable with “good” and not feeling like I’m settling or cheating anyone with “less than perfect.”

And while I realize you may not agree with me (or Bryn, or Brene Brown) . . . for your sanity, I do highly recommend it.

Letting go of perfection is a sane way to get through the tough stuff and still get the work done, and be able to perform and deliver for your clients. It works for me.

Good is great. 

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