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‘The Perfectionist’ and Letting Go

(First appeared in WRAL TechWire.)

Here’s a thought to start: “Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of blame, judgment, and shame.”

That’s from author Brené Brown, and, sure, we could just drop the mic here… because, well, Brené.  But, I still have more than 400 words left in this column, so let’s get after it.

It’s time to talk about The Perfectionist—the last archetype to unpack in our series on impostor syndrome. The perfectionist believes that the only way to be bulletproof is to never make a mistake. That’s right: never make a mistake. They labor to ensure everything they do and say is flawless.

Here’s how the perfectionist experiences impostor syndrome: you’re the fifth hire for a high growth, early stage startup.

New information is coming at you so fast you’re drinking from the proverbial fire hose.

You’re furiously taking notes while not letting them see you sweat, and when the founder asks if you can take over quality assurance for their latest go-to-market product, you accept without blinking an eye.

Cool as a cucumber (on the outside), you say, sure. No problem. On the inside, your impostor syndrome is at 100 percent.

AND THEN…

Once you’re alone with the task, you go into hyperdrive. Your QA testing has never been so thorough. Your documentation has never been so clear and compelling. You comb through your recommendations repeatedly—eating, breathing, obsessing over and dreaming about it… because if you don’t get this right, you fear you’ll be perceived as a fraud.WHAT’S DRIVING IT?

Friend! I’m exhausted just thinking about how hard this is on your beautiful soul!

And if we go back to the beginning and sit with the quote from Brené, the question really is: Why do you feel like you need to show up in the world without flaws?

That is the million dollar question and one we can’t unpack in the remaining 112 words… but we can offer the following counter punches.

Confess what’s driving your perfectionism. Is it rooted in blame, judgment and shame? Tell a friend, a family member, a coworker, your dog… bring it into the light. Naming a thing a thing will help you see how outlandish it is to expect yourself to be perfect.

One thought: You can slap these mantras on a Post It as a daily reminder:

  • “Perfection is boring. Getting better is where all the fun is.” – D. Roua

  • “Mistakes are a fact of life. It’s your response to them that counts.” – N. Giovanni

When you do fall short, handle it with grace.

No self-deprecating talk or self-loathing. Be kind to yourself! You’re human, and people admire those that navigate these moments with dignity and humility. It’s an opportunity to build trust!

Step outside of yourself for a minute, and ask: Do I expect everyone around me to be perfect? Of course not!

Let go and live!

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