Don’t Let Perfectionism Keep You from Pivoting
Alicia Peterkin is founder and CEO of New Methods Consulting, Inc., a full-service HR outsourcing firm that helps clients create engaged workforces with a culture of professional development while minimizing turnover and recruiting costs.
I first met Alicia Peterkin several years ago when I took her on as a coaching client. At the time, Alicia’s business was two-pronged: one virtual assisting (VA) and the other human resources (HR).
When talking about her business in our first intensive, Alicia’s demeanor visibly changed when she switched between talking about VA and HR. When she talked about VA, it seemed like she was just going through the ropes. When she talked about HR, she blossomed, lighting up with a big smile and a gleam in her eye.
I asked Alicia why she was still spending half of her time on VA when it was clear HR was her passion. This question seemed to stop her in her tracks. Later, she told me I was the first person who’d had the courage to ask her this question so plainly.
When Alicia actually thought about it, she realized it was her own desire for perfection that was holding her back from pursuing her passion fully: “This [VA] is what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m perfect at this. What I really love is HR, but I don't know if I'm perfect at that.”
To Alicia, perfectionism means that “there's no room for error.”
“You can never catch me with my slip hanging. That's not gonna work at all. You will not see the edges of this slip underneath this dress. Absolutely not,” she said.
But Alicia’s perfectionism doesn’t just stem from anxiety around how she’s viewed by others. Part of it is internally driven by the need to have “all the balls [she’s] juggling line up.”
“You got to be here for your business. You got to be here for your clients. You got to be here for your family. That's where the pressure from me definitely comes in, is in that juggling act. Because if I drop one ball, I feel like I'm just done,” said Alicia.
Fully committing to HR was scary to Alicia for this very reason. If, through this transition, she “dropped the ball” professionally, would she be able to maintain control over the other aspects of her life?
Perfectionism and Imposter Syndrome
Alicia was also hesitant to embrace the shift into full-time HR because she was worried about how she might be perceived by potential clients. Not having as much professional experience on the HR side, she struggled with feelings of imposter syndrome, wondering if clients were going to trust her or find her qualified enough to hire her.
“Was I going to be as good at it [HR] as I thought I could be? Was I going to be as good at it as I was at being a VA? Are people going to actually want my support? Was anybody going to hire me?” she said. “The nerve of me to even think that maybe I could, that was where I struggled.”
So, could she? That was Alicia’s very first question to herself when seriously contemplating the shift. Having run a successful VA business, she knew she could.
“Can I?” quickly became “should I?” Learning the ropes of a new field, Alicia was worried her clients would see her slip and realize she wasn’t perfect. Her entire career as a VA she had been a “glossy piece of paper,” a shiny, competent professional with a long list of experience and accomplishments. But if she was going to become a full-time HR professional, she would have to let her clients see the flawed person within.
Making The Shift
Being able to have a frank conversation about her career goals allowed Alicia to put her next steps in perspective and finally make the leap into HR full-time.
“It was like I had been given the permission to say, ‘I don't really want to do this anymore.’ And it was okay for me to say it out loud,” she said. “I think sometimes people need to be called to the carpet. You don't have to do something just because you're good at it.”
After some soul searching, she realized she needed to let go of her desire for perfection: “I couldn't just be that paper anymore. I had to actually be a person that was happy in what I was doing every day. You have to shift your mind out of that, ‘can I,’ ‘should I’ to quit playing and do the things you love, because you can't continue this way.”
Refusing to let her perfectionism hold her back was a huge step in Alicia’s entrepreneurial journey. But while she’s made huge progress, it doesn’t mean she’s overcome perfectionism altogether. Alicia will still find herself procrastinating on projects – namely, her coursework – because she worries she won’t complete them perfectly.
“I don't want to start it and finish it and it not be correct. And it gets handed back to me and I got to do it again,” she said.
Alicia’s advice to those who know they need to move forward but are having a hard time letting go of perfectionism? “Being scared means that this is what [you] should be doing. It's clearly what you want. And that fear needs to drive you forward instead of keeping you standing still. Just get out there and do it. It may not look the way that you want it to be. But thankfully, it doesn't have to stay that way.”
In fact, your business should change from year to year. Change indicates progress.
“The beauty of it all is you can change anything any day. Just get started. Because the longer you wait to get started, the longer you are sitting in a space that isn't comfortable for you and the longer the rest of us are having to wait for you,” said Alicia. “We need you.”