I first came across this phrase while reading “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brené Brown. (Life changing, by the way.) Her chapter on perfectionism spoke to me on a deep level …in a super uncomfortable, pit of my stomach, depths of my soul kind of way.
I had always attributed my “attention to detail” to being a really motivated, driven person. Over the past 40-ish years, I have also come to feel the exhaustion of measuring my self-worth by everyone else’s measuring sticks. Somehow though, I had never connected these two things. Then, I read this part of Brené’s second guidepost in “The Gifts of Imperfection” called “Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism”:
Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about
healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect,
and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield.
Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact,
it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking ﬂight.
Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Most perfectionists were raised being praised for
achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule-following, people-pleasing, appearance,
sports). Somewhere along the way, we adopt this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am
what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect. Healthy striving is
self-focused—How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused—What will they think?
Shit. What? It’s like Brené knows me and is talking about my actual life. In high school, I was a National Honor Roll student, Captain of both the swim team and the tennis team, and Vice President of SADD… never drank or did anything that might risk my prospect for the responsible life my parents prepared me for. In my corporate life, I moved up the ranks pretty quickly with promotions every 18-24 month. Sound familiar to anyone else?
So many things clicked into place for me. This isn’t about my ambition at all. It’s about striving to be perfect to avoid shame and judgement. Being perfect for everyone, except me. That’s total bullshit. Having this realization, I embarked on a journey to let go of the need for everything to be perfect before putting it out into the world ...on a personal level, but even more so from a professional level. Let me tell you, it’s been a rough two weeks!
I joke, and yet it is truly a challenge for me. I can look at anything and give you advice on how to make it "better" (especially my own stuff), but I’m trying. I’m fighting the perfectionist vibe on the daily. It hit me hard when I sent an email out to my mailing list yesterday with a typo in it. I was working on client work all weekend and was rushing to get an email out for my own business to help clients make the transition to virtual services during this tumultuous time.
I didn’t proof it the way I normally would, and I missed an extra “you” in a sentence. Once it was pointed out to me, there was immediate swearing and berating of myself ...how could I be so stupid?! How could I miss such an obvious thing?? How are people ever going to trust me as a marketing consultant if my own communications go out with typos?? Should I resend an edited version? Or does that just draw more attention to the mistake? FFS!
Then, I took a step back. Breathe, Emily. You made a mistake. A simple and relatively common mistake during a particularly stressful time. The typo didn’t change the meaning of the sentence. It didn’t detract from the message itself. The goal of sending the email was to support other entrepreneurs during this personally and professionally stressful time. Did the email still accomplish that? Yes, it did. So, calm down, Emily. It is not the end of the world.
Here’s another example, we’re all seeing these hourly schedules for kids while they’re home for the next month …all these organized moms posting these lovely little schedules of all the wonderful activities they’re patiently going to do with their kids to keep them on track at school and engaged in learning. Here’s mine.
Not too bad, right? So far on Day 1 of my schedule, I have managed to hit lunch and quiet/nap time on schedule (because, priorities). That’s it, nothing else. Does that make me a bad mom? No. My kids ran around the basement and made forts and built Lego houses, then played with play-doh for a while. Could I have been more engaged with them? Yes. Am I a horrible mother for letting them do their thing while I write this blog? No.
So, forget this perfection BS. Let’s give each other the gift of imperfection. Mistakes happen, you’re human. Embrace your humanness (pretty sure I just made that one up) …embrace the beauty of the an imperfect life. Take the learning from every experience, then move the hell on. Be patient with others right now. Everyone is stressed and everyone is doing the best they can. But perhaps most importantly, be patient with yourself. Show yourself compassion and understanding in this stressful phase of life.