Wild abandon, perfectionism, and the dance of business

“You were wild once. Don’t let them tame you!” Isadora Duncan
I’ve been musing about wild abandon since my colleague, Philippa Rowlands, hinted that I could integrate more of it into my work. In the same conversation she observed that just maybe I had a tendency to go for a “high distinction” when a “pass” was all that’s needed.
You think?
At first I interpreted that tendency to go for distinction as perfectionism. But something about that didn’t sit right. Then another colleague, Alice Brock, stepped in with a wise and wonderful reframe. Here’s what Alice said:

Let’s call it visionism
“I like to bring up something…that is important to recognize for anyone born with a massive intellect. I notice it in my students (children, aged 6 up) and my clients that, if they are bright to gifted, they suffer from something that appears to be perfectionism. However, often it is not perfectionism, but ‘visionism’ that they suffer from.
“Their beautiful brains give them a vision of what could be, a glowing, magnificent possibility and they fall in love with its transcendent qualities. When they attempt to replicate their vision on the physical plane, it naturally falls short (sometimes far short) of the shimmering picture that is in their head. As anyone who has ‘visionsim’ can tell you, this can be devastating.
“What makes it even more painful is when other people tell them they are being perfectionists for being disappointed. No! No! No! Perfectionism is different. Perfectionism is a manifestation of anxiety and feels tight, fearful and controlling.
“Visionism is the pain of not being able to bring the beauty that is in one’s head into the physical world. With visionism, bright and gifted folk need the compassion and the understanding that the reality will not measure up to their vision.
“Bright and gifted folk need to develop the skillset to be okay with what at first blush appears to be mediocrity and realize that the first feelings of disappointment and dejection are normal. They also need to learn to distinguish between perfectionism and visionism. Once they can identify each state, they need to be able to give themselves a hug for being in either state and then give themselves permission to move ahead with a product or project that ‘seems’ inferior. And not take themselves too seriously.”

Different frames, similar challenges
Perfectionism and visionism are different frames for the experience or fear of falling short.
As Alice says, perfectionism “is a manifestation of anxiety and feels tight, fearful and controlling.”
I propose that visionism is a manifestation of a magnificent possibility caught between wild abandon and careful development. Enacting a vision calls for both. But how do you negotiate the edge between abandon and care?

The 70% solution
Enter another wise colleague, Sean D’Souza. Sean urges his clients to put their work out in the world when it is 70% complete. 70%! In Catholic school that was a D. What is he thinking?
For one thing, we’re not in school any more. The real world makes the most complex story problem or essay test look dead simple. And school doesn’t take into account the feedback loop, the interplay of action and reaction that lets you correct your course until you reach your goal. Without feedback, you can follow a perfectly straight line and land miles away from your destination.
In the real world, a vision that is 70% realized is ripe for feedback. Keeping it to yourself strangles it, keeping it from the light and air of interaction and feedback. The interaction and feedback it needs to reach 90% completion.

It’s only ever 90%
In the olden days at school, 90% was a solid B. (Yes. I really was obsessed with grades. Sue me.) But in the olden days, 100% was a fixed point. An ideal that could be fully defined and actually accomplished.
But in real life, there’s no such thing as 100%. An ideal, a vision, is always evolving, growing, shifting. That’s what makes it vibrant and enduring. So you can never fully close the gap between 90 and 100%.

Embrace vision, dance with abandon, and let go at 70%
The beautiful thing about 70% is that it honors your vision while showing you when to bring it out from the ideal and into the real world.
At 70%, it’s time to let the wild rumpus start.*

Connecting with wise ones
Sean D’Souza can be found at www.psychotactics.com. Alice and Philippa are each at work on their Web presence. I’ll pass along links in due time.


  1. Joely Black

    I really like this.
    I’ve often been accused of perfectionism, because I like to work hard and have a high set of standards for myself.
    But it isn’t. I see perfectionism as an all-or-nothing state of mind. Perfectionism is about other people, about seeking their approval and the terror of not getting it. I know because I’ve experienced it.
    I like “visionism”. Having high standards is knowing when you can do better. There were students I taught I would never tell a pass was acceptable. They were better than that. They could work harder, and achieve more. They didn’t have to be perfect, but they could reach for more.
    There’s nothing wrong with doing that for yourself, for knowing the difference between perfectionism and aiming to improve because you know you can do better.

  2. Bobbye Middendorf

    Molly, These are powerful distinctions — perfectionism vs. visionism– and extraordinarily helpful. Thank you for mapping out these two sides of the coin and a way forward that allows us to co-create “the next 20+ percent,” finding our most perfect, just-right fellow travelers to give us the input we need to allow the vision to unfold in its shiniest form! xo
    Bobbye Middendorf
    Your Messaging Mentor

  3. Aiyana

    Molly, this is so helpful. I am definitely a visionary at heart and am impatient when other people don’t seem to go the whole way with me. But stopping at 70% means leaving room for others to contribute, to join in, to work in community. I’d rather be partnered than perfect!
    This applies to a book I’m writing about healing. It’s time to let what I’ve done so far into the world and invite collaboration!

  4. Janet

    Love this, Molly.
    One thing that’s been hugely helpful to me has been learning about the concept of “negative first reaction.” It’s one of the “optional” traits on the Myers Briggs scale for spiritedness. I learned about it when I worked on the classic parenting book, Raising a Spirited Child. Some people love everything at first blush, but I’m a slow lover, I guess you could say. Though I’ve learned to jump in, pounce, use deadlines, share, let go.(Hmmm, this is getting personal!) Maybe there’s some overlap with “visionism” types?

  5. Fabeku Fatunmise

    This strikes a solid chord, Molly.
    Visionism explains things that perfectionism doesn’t. And I love that.
    I also see how, for me, visionism can turn into perfectionism at some point. The vibe shifts. From the expansive oh yeah! to the contracting oh no.
    Now I can keep a closer watch on when things flip.
    p.s. I see the smartness in 70%. And I still struggle with actually doing that. I grew up in a house where the line, “An A- isn’t an A!” was heard a lot. I should add we’re not in school anymore and it’s only ever 90% to my bucket of mantras. Thanks Molly!

  6. Andrew

    Wow…this does offer something to ponder. I face (or perhaps it’s better defined as allow) deep frustration to fill me on a daily basis due to what I consider to be the laziness and incompetence of others. I’ve heard it said many times that people are inherently good – I couldn’t disagree more. Unfortunately my experience has proven repeatedly that the greater majority of people are unmotivated and have no conscience conflict with doing things only “70%” (or less). Pride is no longer a driving force within people but rather, they are prone to evading responsibility and have little or no care whatsoever for being productive or doing good work. Yes, I’ve lost faith in people, but it’s happened over years and years of personal experience and I’m tired of being the “go-to-guy” or the one who puts forth all the effort to ensure things are accomplished in good form while the rest of the “team” spends their time finding ways to shirk any and all accountability. If we, the ones with “visionism” stop giving 100%, the resultant efforts will be of poor quality in everything we produce and every service we offer. We, what I like to call the “2% factor,” are only going to cheat ourselves if we, too, feel that 70% is enough effort. Ninety-eight percent of the world already feels that giving 10% is plenty. If we stop giving our all, we are destined to fail and the existence of quality, integrity, dedication, and pride will fade into nonexistence…or are they already gone? My apologies for being somewhat of a downer, but I fear the day when those of us with exceptional talent and drive accept mediocre (or 70%) as good enough.

  7. Lydia Puhak

    After letting the visionism concept reframe my thinking and putting attention at that 70% mark, then layering over what fellow commenter Aiyana mentions about leaving room for others to contribute, I’m finding that THIS is where the work is for me right now. Wild abandon, for me, has nearly always been something that’s only happened in my imagination. The thought of bringing others into it and allowing myself to be seen in this state of surrendered exuberance all the while remaining open to receiving the contributions of others is unleashing me! Could this be the way in for me to invite them to express that they actually ‘get’ what I’m trying to say? THIS is where I MUST play now.

  8. Abby

    Hi! Your post stuck me particularly because a few years ago I was fortunate enough to see a performance of Whirling Dervishes (accompanied by Coleman Barks reciting Rumi!) It is great to have that experience to draw upon when I think about complete and total “letting go”
    As an artist, perfectionism is definitely something I’ve struggled with. You have a vision of what you want the outcome to be, but fear of not attaining that can get in the way of completing or even starting a project!
    I am having my first solo exhibit (in 2 weeks!) and have spent the year preparing. Perhaps the most helpful thing I came across was the quote ‘It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to get done”
    I repeat this often, and have this posted in my work space! It’s really helped to focus on the finished goal rather than get bogged down by the details. When I start a piece, I am always surprised how it turns out anyway, and often I like it better the original vision (in my head) to begin with!

  9. Joanna M

    Molly- I just wanted you to know that while this touched my intellect, it also touched my heart. I cried. Thank you for sharing this concept and the distinction between ‘perfectionism’ and ‘visionism’ (I do both, and now I better know how to recognize and handle them). Opening to this has brought me a lot of self-compassion and forgiveness. Thank you.

  10. Eric

    I appreciate your expansion of Sean’s 70% principle to emphasize that:
    It doesn’t mean you’re done. Rather, that you’re ready to engage with others and allow their feedback and experience to move your work forward.
    70% is the start of a whole new level of creation – one that includes others input, vision, contribution, and energy.
    This is a learning edge for me – as a lone-wolf, perfectionist. I’ve delayed bringing others “in” until the work was nudging 90%.

  11. Isabel Parlett

    I love this distinction of perfectionism and visionism.
    I keep being drawn to set high goals and yet I haven’t always known how to manage the disappointment when I fall short (even when falling short represents significant accomplishment.)
    I’ve also had friends and colleagues suggest I set my sights lower, but that doesn’t feel good either.
    Thanks for illuminating this for me.

  12. Indigene

    I love the idea that there are two different aspects of what I called “Perfectionism”. For me,”visionism” caused procrastination! Knowing that it would not be 100%, would stop me from starting it, because then I know the end result would not be what I had in my mind’s eye. I would start, destroy, start, destroy, etc.
    I love the concept of 70%, but then then criticism could destroy the 30% you trusted in letting go!
    I do love this idea of “visionism”

  13. Elena Rodriguez

    This article rang so true for me today – I’m saving it to give myself hope when I’m disappointed by not reaching the fulfillment of the original vision. (I never could completely relate to the idea of myself as perfectionist. I’m way too logical to expect anybody, even me, to be perfect!)
    In recent months I’ve made progress with projects so much quicker when I was able to let them go for comment and feedback at that 70% point. So I’m glad to have someone – you and your colleagues – articulate these ideas intelligently and succinctly so I can continue to apply them to my life and work. Keep it up, Molly – you’re a gem!

  14. tammy vitale

    this catholic school A student wants to thank you for this (as she gets ready to trot off to her 45th HS reunion). This is wonderful. It is perfect AND it is visionary. Thank you. Off to share on my FB….many hugs and kisses for this!

  15. Molly Gordon

    What a chord this struck! I see I have lots of company in the realm of visionaries! This makes my heart very happy indeed. ♥


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