Perfectionism Versus Resilience

Even though marketing and psychology are vastly different fields with different aims, good marketing should be based on real-world psychology to be most effective. For someone who runs their own company the value of soft skills like communication and mediation should not be underestimated, as these are as important in business as they are in private life. Many of the skills obtained from dealing with interpersonal issues among friends, mediating family disputes, or sharing good news with a community are also relevant for marketing a business.

Today I’ll be discussing two opposing concepts in psychology, perfectionism and resilience, and examining the way that these concepts are relevant to both to marketing and to other areas of life.

How perfectionism holds people back

Perfectionism is one of those qualities which is often seen as positive, such as the overly cliched answer to a job interview question about a candidate’s biggest weakness. Candidates have been taught to proudly describe their biggest weakness as perfectionism, as if this implies that they do everything to a very high standard and make no mistakes.

However, perfectionism is actually a damaging mindset that leads to an outsized fear of failure. This is a particularly prevalent problem among people who have always been successful at school or in their jobs. When a person’s self worth is based on the idea that they always do well at everything, they are terrified of failing because that would mean they were worthless as a person. This leads them to not taking risks and to cutting themselves off from new ideas. Likewise, when people believe that they must do everything perfectly, they get hung up on small details and obsess over every problem or setback. Perfectionism makes people struggle to prioritise the most important tasks and leaves them unable to accept when a solution is good enough.

The opposite of perfectionism is resilience

Resilience is a hot topic in psychology research which refers to the ability to withstand negative experiences. People who are resilient have a high tolerance for uncertainty and an ability to adapt as circumstances require, particularly in the face of difficult outcomes. Resilience has been identified as a key factor in the success of entrepreneurs, and is also strongly correlated with life satisfaction. This means that the most successful people are not those who never face problems or setbacks, but those who know how to overcome setbacks and to learn from them.

Resilience is bolstered by resourcefulness and the ability to find unexpected solutions by leveraging resources from all different areas of life. When a problem occurs, a resilient person comes up with a novel solution and learns from the issue to improve themselves and their business in the future. In some ways, perfectionism and resilience can be seen as opposites: when a problem occurs the perfectionist becomes distressed and is unable to cope with negative feelings about themselves, while the resilient person searches for solutions and looks towards the future with optimism. Put simply: when something goes wrong, does someone berate themself and focus on their failures, or do they focus on what they can learn and do differently next time?

Why resilience matters

The reason that resilience is so important is that it is impossible to predict every environmental factor or issue that could affect a business or personal decision. Someone might launch their first business just before a major recession hits, or they might discover that their date has had a terrible day at work and is in a bad mood. In either of these situations, even the best planning and efforts might not lead to success: the business might go under, and there might not be a second date. Setbacks, problems, hardship, and pain are a part of all areas of life, including business, and these negative outcomes need to be accounted for and accepted rather than feared.

Entrepreneurs need to be willing to keep trying over and over again in order to eventually succeed, and they need the courage to be vulnerable when putting themselves out there in front of clients, employees, or other entrepreneurs. Resilience allows people to pick themselves off the mat and to keep trying even when things go wrong, and enables them to be vulnerable and honest with themselves and others.

How to develop resilience

Developing resilience is thus important both as an entrepreneur and as a person, but like many key life skills it takes a long time to master. One good starting point is to think about resilience in contrast to perfectionism. When someone starts berating themself or thinking that they are worthless because of a mistake they made or a problem they face, they should recognise that this is a destructive perfectionist impulse. Expecting oneself to know everything and to do everything correctly is not only unrealistic, it is actually counterproductive to being a better businessperson and a happier human being.

At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that failure is hard. It is dispiriting and exhausting to deal with major problems and it is okay to feel bad when something does not work out as planned. But there is a big difference between allowing oneself to feel sad for a short time, and wallowing in self recrimination for every perceived mistake. Problems will arise: the new sales campaign flops, the business gets dropped by a major client, there are issues with the supply chain or employees or accounting. The measure of success is not how few of these problems affect a business, but rather how the entrepreneur responds when the problems do arrive. Do they focus on criticising themself and let their perfectionism send them into a negative spiral, or do they pick themself up, learn a lesson, and move on to future success?

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