Calling All Perfectionists!
“Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” -Brené Brown
During some interview, at some point in your budding career life, I know you experienced this…
Interviewer: “What is your greatest weakness?”
You: “Well, I am a perfectionist…”
Yes, we’ve all been there, playing into a cultural script that tells us to get ahead by “doing more” “pleasing everyone” and “hiding anything less than perfect.”
But, the truth is, perfectionism diminishes a leader’s ability to:
Connect with others. When perfectionists hide who they really are, in an effort to be seen as ‘perfect’ and ‘strong,’ they lose the opportunity to have authentic, meaningful conversations. The best leaders are approachable, have integrity, and are comfortable with who they are. It is hard to do any of this while being a perfectionist.
Perform. A perfectionist has a difficult time presenting work that isn’t, well, perfect. Perfectionists often procrastinate because they never feel quite ready to start a flawless project. They can also be completely decimated by critiques, which destroys the morale needed to be productive. Leaders with high performance readily learn from their mistakes and steadily work through tasks. Perfectionists have difficulty with these behaviors.
Innovate. In a world full of new technology, cultural diversity, and change, innovation is key to today’s businesses. But to think creatively of new ideas and solutions, the perfectionist must do something they are incredibly uncomfortable with: they must be willing to fail and make mistakes. Nothing is more scary to a perfectionist than making public errors, and innovation requires a certain risk-tolerance that most perfectionists don’t possess.
When it comes to connecting with others, performance, and innovation, being a perfectionist puts leaders at a disadvantage. If you identify yourself as a perfectionist, you must reckon with this fact:
To be human is to be imperfect.
At some point, each of us will reckon with our human imperfection. If you have the funds and the time to go on a lengthy spiritual retreat to have this reckoning, go right ahead. (In fact, do you have funds enough for two??) But for those of us needing to bypass the plane ride, here’s the heart of the perfectionist matter:
You feel like you need to be perfect to belong/ be loved/ be worthy.
Half of this equation is true, and half is false:
You DON’T need to be perfect (and you never will be).
You DO need belonging, love, and a sense of worth.
And the only person who has the power, reliability, and sword-cutting fierceness to give this belonging, love, and sense of worth to yourself is YOU.
The only person with the power, reliability, and sword-cutting fierceness to give you what you need is YOU! Click To Tweet
Getting fired up to coax yourself out of perfectionism is no small feat—congratulations! But, in order to actually step out of the “I need to perfect because…” loop, you need to FEEL what it’s like to get that much needed love/ belonging/ sense of worth from yourself. In order to achieve this, I invite you to do a seemingly-silly activity. I know that it seems ridiculous because, when I first read about it, I thought “This seems silly!” Then I tried it, felt its heart-melting effects, and I’ve practiced it, quite willingly, a dozen times since. I hope you will give it a try and have a similar experience:
The Self-Compassionate Letter
- Think of a current situation in which you feel less than perfect + need some compassion. It could be a mistake you’ve recently made, a quarrel you’re in, or an upcoming situation about which you feel nervous or anxious. Take a couple of breaths to settle into this reality.
- Pull out a piece of paper and pen, and write yourself a compassionate letter, as you would to a dear, sweet friend or child. Be specific, be comforting, don’t try to fix. The following are the three dimensions of self-compassion from researcher, Kristin Neff, you might like to weave into your letter:
1: Mindfulness: To understand what is going on for you. For example, “I see that you are feeling ashamed and a little avoidant about the mistake you made the other day.”
2: A link to all humanity: To help you not feel isolated. For example, “You are not alone. Lots of people feel ashamed when they make mistakes like this.”
3: Comforting, kind words. To soothe your wounds. For example, “Oh honey, I know it’s so hard for you to admit to yourself that you made a mistake.”
Make sure to sign off the letter!
- Put away the letter. Set a timer for two minutes, and use this time to sink back into the troubling reality about which you wrote.
- After your timer goes off, read your letter with fresh, tender eyes. Savor the words; let them sink in. Cherish the gift you’ve given to yourself.
Isn’t it amazing how this person knows just what to say to soothe your soul? Isn’t it amazing that you have the unique, tender power to heal yourself?Learning to love ourselves is a revolutionary act. Click To Tweet
How did it feel to read back the letter you wrote to yourself?
If this experience was powerful for you, how could you integrate writing letters to yourself into a regular practice?
Congratulations on your new gift. I promise you, if you dive into the practice of offering yourself compassion, there are so many more gifts to come.
You will never be perfect, but you can learn to love your messy, beautiful, imperfect self.
Corporate Alchemy Consortium brings emotional intelligence training to leaders and their organizations for sustained well-being and success. To learn more about our philosophy and services, visit https://www.corporatealchemyconsortium.com
Maria Jackson is a guest writer for Corporate Alchemy Consortium. After having her life changed by emotional intelligence, she is thrilled to share the personal and practical inspirations of EQ with others. Her noble goal is to nurture inner illumination, and her writing inspires others to uncover their own inner light.