The importance of taking imperfect action

Are you waiting to narrow your niche, raise your fees, charge for planning, launch that website, start a podcast or resume marketing again amid COVID?

Have you ever put off taking important action or making a change that will make you more successful? Have you rationalized that you just need a bit more time to decide what to charge, figure out what to say on the podcast, or decide how best to introduce clients to the idea of charging for advice — because it’s important to get it really right before beginning?

We’ve all experienced it. We identify a goal and suddenly our mind starts spinning at hyper-speed on the what-ifs that could derail our efforts, lose us all our clients and lead to our ruin.

Our brains are hardwired to keep us safe by avoiding risk. We need this primitive survival system to remind us to look both ways before crossing the street, or to run when facing a hungry tiger. However, the very voices that ensure our survival fail to mention that the safety they offer is also costing you opportunities. 

In my 27-year career, I’ve had the privilege of developing strategy with and coaching some of the industry’s top advisers and leaders, and I am here to tell you that every single one of them has made some messy mistakes. Try as we all might, this very human experience simply cannot be avoided. 

The formula for bridging the gap between what you have and what you want isn’t to work harder or longer. It’s much simpler than that. If you want to accelerate your success, simply commit to taking imperfect action in much greater doses. 

If you do, it’s inevitable that you will experience progress, because it is the very process of taking imperfect action that allows you to learn, refine and perfect your craft through the only process I know that works 100% of the time: practice. 

“If you raise your fees, a lot of clients might be unhappy and leave,” the voices in your head remind you. These voices readily produce a list of rationalizations and justifications for your inaction, otherwise known as excuses, any time you start to step outside the relative safety of your status quo. 

I have the fee increase conversation literally dozens of time each year; I had it recently with Mark, an adviser in our Limitless Advisor coaching community. He had the same questions as hundreds of advisers before him: questions like what to charge, how to present it, what to do if clients push back, how many clients will be upset, or even leave. 

Regardless of which scary steps you lack the confidence to take, your work will be much easier if you accept that a perfect outcome is impossible. There is an inevitable truth that we all try to avoid — you have to get things wrong before you can get them really right.

Since it’s easy for your brain to conveniently skim over that last part, and its relevance to your experiencing greater success cannot be understated, I invite you to pause here and reflect on the idea that it is a statistical impossibility for you to get new things completely right. It is simply not possible for you to execute perfectly, there is no living example of such an experience. Thus, the only logical conclusion is that making progress toward your goals requires that we accept imperfection, misfires and lessons learned the hard way. 

When you think about it, it’s rather silly that we don’t act more often on our knowing that making mistakes is the path to greater success, not avoiding them. 

Mark and I went on to discuss and decide on his next best steps, creating a bite-sized path to having his first client conversation in 30 days. Yes, he went on to have his first client conversation. Yes, everything turned out better than fine as the one client he lost was replaced by double-digit revenue growth, and it was a client he knew was good to let go. And no, he did not execute perfectly.

He’ll tell you that he got busy and didn’t rehearse the really awesome script we crafted. He’ll tell you that he stumbled through the first few client conversations, the first one badly (which is why he started with his smallest clients). He’ll tell you that by the fifth conversation he realized what a nonevent this was to most clients, how long overdue this had been, and how much revenue and time he’d lost by doing too much for too little for too long. 

Mark is now a massive fan of taking imperfect action. He regularly sends me updates on projects, letting me know he’s at 70% and ready to launch. The rest, he’s now quite clear, has to be learned along the way. 

It’s not that Mark still doesn’t hear those voices in his head, it’s just that he’s now more aware and can see that an all-or-nothing attitude, valuing perfection over progress and shrinking himself for fear of negative side effects simply will not deliver the results he wants in his practice. 

Nor will it deliver the results you want in yours.

I invite you to ask yourself where you are holding yourself back waiting to take perfect action. Next, get real with yourself by asking yourself what your inaction is in service of, followed immediately by what it’s really costing you. Then decide what next, imperfect step you can take in that direction. 

Whether your personal brand of inaction is perfectionism, procrastination or always having some problem that must be solved before you can start, know that you are only delaying the inevitable messes, mistakes and learnings — not avoiding them.

As you face the future of possibilities on the other side of your fears, I invite you to reflect on the words of John August Shedd, who said, “Ships in the harbor are safe, but that’s not what ships are made for.” Now, take action.

[More: Trade your to-do list for a to-be list]

Stephanie Bogan is a business strategist, high-performance practice coach and founder of Limitless Adviser Coaching. Register here to attend her new webinar on the 2021 Coaching program. Learn more here.

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