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Start now! 3 Ways to Overcome Perfectionism

#becomeanidol #besthire #careerchange #change #doitmessy #encouragement #feedback #idolcommunity #instructionaldesign May 06, 2022

Starting something new is scary. When I start something new, I’m afraid I’ll fail. Worse, I’m afraid people will know I failed. So why bother? Some don’t. Some let their fear take control and prevent them from taking action. But for those of us who persist, we have to let go of perfectionism to take the first step. 


There’s a misconception that recovering perfectionists like myself have, that the first draft we create must come out perfectly. Of course we know that’s not the case. My favorite Simpsons writer, John Swartzwelder, said he wrotecrap jokesfor his quick first drafts, all 59 of them! Every finished project started somewhere messy: TV, movies, books, apps, and yes, elearning courses. 


The IDOL courses Academy Do It Messy challenge is built on taking action: Create an asset, receive feedback, implement feedback, and repeat the cycle until there’s a polished result. This was exactly what I needed to continue my educational journey! The blank page is terrifying, but having permission to use it as a canvas for messy work changed my mindset. The goal was no longer a perfect outcome, but the action itself. All I needed to do was start.


I built a course using Articulate Rise® and posted it to the IDOL® community for peer feedback. The hard part was over! I’ve worked in positions where feedback was given regularly, so I was looking forward to it. Along with the excitement came worry: Did I write clearly? Did I use the right elements? Would I fail as an instructional designer before I started? Fear had once again crept into my thoughts. 


In reality, I had nothing to fear. Even if I had designed the worst course ever, it could be changed. In fact, feedback was positive: “I learned something new!” and “May I ask how you did that?” With all the flaws and imperfections, I taught something! People were coming to me with questions! 


Through the iterative feedback process with peers and coaches, I created my first portfolio asset, both learning and teaching in the process. With that completed, I moved onto the next challenge, and the next, and the next. To date, my portfolio has five polished assets. I’m currently a learning design volunteer with Rumie Learn, a tech nonprofit that creates free learning experiences. Each project is a new opportunity to learn and grow as an instructional designer. 


“Fear and action can’t coexist,” says career and life coach Caroline Castrillon. Do it messy, and your focus is on the action, not the fear. If you’re like me, you’re wondering how to take action when plagued with perfectionism. Here’s three ways to start now: 

  1. Write something: Anything, really. You’ll delete it later. But do it anyway. Once you’re not staring at a blank page, you have something to work with. 
  2. Let go of expectations: Don’t get attached to one specific outcome. Be open to feedback, and let your creation evolve. 
  3. Do something you’re bad at: Not a good singer? Sing at the top of your lungs! Bad at drawing? Draw some messy cats. Get used to being imperfect. The more you do it, the less afraid you’ll be.


The fear hasn’t gone away completely. I don’t think it ever does. But it’s not stopping me. Action is the enemy of perfectionism. Even though I was afraid, I took that first, messy step. Don’t let perfectionism stop you before you start. Start now, and see how far you can go. 


Written by: Marilyn Day

Marilyn creates engaging content that empowers adult learners to take an active role in their learning. See her finished results of doing it messy at Follow her on LinkedIn for resume tips and more Simpsons references.