The gifts of imperfection, boundaries and the small business self | InspireHUB


“The best is the enemy of the good.” These powerful words from Voltaire are one of the most important things we’ll ever learn about growing a small business.

In yesterday’s Big on Small podcast, Barn Sanctuary’s Executive Director, Kelly Holt, shared some powerful truth about our obsession with perfection in business and as individuals. Having played a key role in their rocketship growth these past four years as a farm animal rescue team, leading to their own show on Animal PlanetSaved by the Barn — Kelly definitely knows a thing or two about stress.

How not to lose yourself or your small business in the quest for perfection, from 4 leaders who know.

In her chat with podcast hosts, Karolyn Hart and Samantha Castro, Kelly got real about the impact that advocacy has had on her own life —growing quickly while in the spotlight of a hit television show. 

“The stress that we put on ourselves to be the perfect 'whatever we're at that moment', it really doesn't make for valuable conversations; it doesn't make for good human connections; it doesn't make for good leadership. It creates a problem where there doesn’t need to be one when we strive to be perfect instead of honest and good. I think it’s just the wrong value to put at the forefront if you’re trying to do something powerful, if you’re trying to make a positive impact.”

She went on to share the lessons she’s learned about personal agency and the need to separate your identity from that of the business, something that can be a tremendous challenge for most entrepreneurs. The very nature of a startup is to birth something essential, something that is often tied to a personal passion and a part of who you are at the core. This can be excruciating for small business owners who face the potential loss of what they’ve poured their blood, sweat and tears into building, only to see it sliding backwards during the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic.

Separating the two — who you are as a person from who the business is — is a key to survival, and it depends on learning to set boundaries to ensure the growth and sustainability of each.


Here are 3 more antidotes to the quest for perfection, the death of creativity and personal agency in small business.


1. Seth Godin on how abandoning perfection unleashes us in business.

There have been plenty of wise people like Kelly who have weighed in on the necessity and value of this. Seth Godin’s mini-manifesto on Abandoning Perfection was a bite-sized reminder of how the quest for perfect kills progress and innovation: 

“Perfect lets you stall, ask more questions, do more reviews, dumb it down, safe it up and generally avoid doing anything that might fail (or anything important). You're not in the perfect business. Stop pretending that's what the world wants from you.”


2. Bryan Zanisnik on how Sweden’s separation of work and self empowers business.

Someone else who takes a critical look at the tangled relationship between personal agency and the ways that perfection stifles work is artist Bryan Zanisnik, who used to equate suffering with success. The “starving artist” stereotype is based on the assumption that profit is the necessary enemy of creativity. Brian dislodged himself from the epicentre of that disconnect in his own practice, moving from New York to Stockholm, Sweden to address that head-on:

“I was really drawn to this aspect of Sweden where one’s career wasn’t so closely tied to one’s identity,” he tells Art21, admitting that he found relief in the separation of his work and selfhood. Though he has since returned to New York, now living between the two cities, Zanisnik has managed to find a happy medium. “Do we make our lives more difficult than they have to be?” he asks. In doing work that is joyful, he says, “there’s a stillness… maybe a relaxed mental stillness there too.”

He unpacks the very specific ways the Swedish diffuse this in the short film Bryan Zanisnik’s Big Pivot at the 4:00 - 5:30 minute timeline.

Pro Tip: For a simple tactic to put this to work in your own practice, take a peek at the tip I offer in my short article: “The one word that can turn networking from an exploit to an Adventure” on LinkedIn.


3. Dr. Brené Brown on how setting boundaries helps us grow our businesses and ourselves.

Yet another catalytic ambassador of personal agency is research professor Dr. Brené Brown, whose professional career has been built around unpacking the story that data tells about our complicated sense of self. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, she explores the critical nature of boundaries in wellness and success. Knowing it takes courage, she reassures: “Worthiness has no prerequisites.” Whether personally or in business, enough if enough.

Setting boundaries not only protects our wellness as people; it ensures the integrity of our business’ vision and mission.

This 5-minute excerpt from Brené’s talk on PBS is not only a great endcap to this exploration but the perfect jumping-off point for many others. As small business owners, we often are what we do. Learning to untangle that and let go of the need to get everything exactly right empowers us. It allows us to make bold choices and possibly pivot to brave and creative new opportunities that might be the very thing that helps us grow our small business, but also ourselves.

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Topics: small business, stress, connection, creativity, leadership development, Karolyn Hart, success strategies, wellness, Kelly Holt, Samantha Castro, growth strategies, pivots, grow your business, business insights, boundaries, entrepreneurs, Big on Small, Barn Sanctuary, Saved by the Barn, Seth Godin, Brené Brown, identity, personal agency, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brian Zanisnik, perfection, artists, Sweden, PBS

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