Blog Post: Growing Past Perfectionism 7.29.22

As a journalism undergrad and recovering perfectionist, I am guilty of being one of those people who has an invisible red pen in my head, and silently corrects grammar and typos as I see and hear them. If you’re not one of those people, you probably know someone who is! What you should know is it’s not a judgement, but rather- at least in my head, just a helpful correction. 🙂

Well, not a judgement for others at least… As a good, ol’ (trying to be recovering) perfectionist, I hold myself to a higher standard, and part of my ‘work in progress’ journey is learning to give myself the grace I give others. Well, I was given just the opportunity recently when in my staff meeting, I clicked to the next slide in my presentation and saw a huge error staring right back at me and everyone else on the big screen. Ugh! How did this happen?! My head was racing, filling quickly with shame and blame for myself of what I should’ve done differently, how I could’ve found a 25th hour in the day to proof the deck, etc. My sabateour was telling me that I was their leader and I let them down by not showing an exceptional standard.

In that moment, while my inner, recovering perfectionist was mortified, I knew as a leader this was an opportunity for me to lead by example and capture a few lessons for myself and the team. If you are a leader, you probably would agree with me that often the lessons we share are as much reminders for ourselves as they are for our teams.

So, I chose to quiet the head trash and practice something I do for my kids in an attempt to not pass down this perfectionism gene; I shined a light on my mistake and imperfection. By showing that I make mistakes and it gives those around me generally turns out ok, gives those around me permission to take the pressure off themselves and make mistakes. And that is important both personally and professionally because to grow, we have to take risks, and when we do, we will not get it right 100% of the time. We will become more of who we are meant to be by taking calculated risks and getting it wrong some of the time, than by playing it safe and staying where we are.

What I’ve also learned about perfectionism is that not only does it put unattainable pressure on yourself, but it can also put unintentional pressure on those around you, especially those who don’t want to let you down… your team, your peers, your kids, your partner, etc. It is well-intended, but not productive.

So, in that moment- I verbally communicated the lessons I was capturing and invited my staff to do the same:

First, I was humbly reminded that we are humans and humans error, so I was choosing to practice giving myself grace for the mistake, knowing I was giving my best with what I had at the time. And I recognized that when I was caught being imperfect (which is connected to an underlying fear that many of us carry of not being enough for those around us,) when it happened- the team gave me grace and didn’t really think twice about it. This brings me to the second lesson, that the fear and anxiety is almost always worse than the actual event.

And lastly, I recognized the cause for the error was that due to conflicting timelines and priorities, I didn’t have time to final proof the presentation (which I always do,) and decided while juggling my priorities that even though I wouldn’t have time to proof it. In this case, as Sheryl Sandberg says, “Done is better than perfect.” Those are not words that easily come out of a perfectionist’s mouth. But, I knew it was true and right, and important to capture and share, so that the perfectionists on my team can give themselves the same grace… and I share this now so that for anyone who is a perfectionist or cares about one, it may help you understand and practice some grace as well.