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The last couple of First Friday Challenges I presented to my subscriber base focused on Bravery and Resilience. This month, I took a closer look at a common creativity and innovation killer: Perfectionism. In her book bird by bird, a delightful read about writing and life, author Anne Lamott calls it out as a major cause for writer’s block and plain old drab:
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better that you, and have a lot more fun while they are doing it.”
I see perfectionism getting in the way of many efforts and opportunities beyond creative writing. Perfectionism keeps you from experimenting. It will stop you from starting something when you are not certain that the outcome will be anything like the idea that you hold in your mind.
Perfectionism is a myth that asserts itself in several ways. These myths tell the story of “not ready yet” and “not good enough”. It focuses on flaws and lack. It is a bravery, resilience, creativity and joy killer.
So let go of it already!
Easier said than done you say? Well, let’s explore the myths that perfectionism perpetuates and begin rooting it out of our daily lives:
1. The Myth of Permanence
Perfectionism lures you into thinking that your efforts are watched and judged by everyone around you. In reality, the majority of our imperfections or imperfect actions will hardly be noticed, will be easily laid to rest, or they are things that can be edited, updated, or improved at a later date or with the next rendition. The important thing is to do something and get moving towards a goal.
Remembering that nothing is permanent and that taking a first step, even if wobbly, is better than waiting for perfect. Taking a shaky first try will set your creative juices flowing, allow you to tap into greater creativity, and ultimately enjoy better results!
2. The Myth of Success or Failure
Perfectionism blinds you to the spectrum between success and failure. Like other all-or-nothing ways of thinking, it highlights the extreme options with nothing in-between! Even worse, the tendency is to believe that the odds are slanted significantly in the failure direction. Of course you procrastinate – who wants to fast track towards failure?
The truth is that there is always room for improvement no matter how amazing your first effort is. Because we are constantly learning and growing, when we look at past efforts the desire to update can be strong! Some things aren’t even worth your time to fret about. Other things can be considered valuable learning experiences that can be mined for valuable insights. Take the time and energy to figure out which is which – let go what needs to be let go and learn from what can be improved.
3. The Myth of Getting Respect or Approval
If you’re struggling with perfectionism, it can also be a signal that you value the opinions of others more than what is healthy for you. It can seem logical that you need to present a polished and perfect appearance for others to accept your leadership. However, it has generally been my experience that people are attracted to authenticity and vulnerability not perfection. As a leader, a mask of perfectionism can have the effect of making you unapproachable to your team. Of course, you want to remain professional but putting up a fake front of perfection will not promote your reputation in your team nor does it create a safe space for them to take risks and be creative.
4. The Myth of Everyone Else Has It All Figured Out
This one is more common than you might guess, especially among leaders. It is closely related to Impostor Syndrome as well – the idea that everyone else got where they are by merit, but you’re just lucky and don’t really deserve to be there! It fills you with the internal pressure to make sure you do everything correctly so no one finds you out. The truth is that very few leaders feel 100% confident all of the time. Comparing yourself to another leader will always lead to self-doubt and will hamper your own and your organization’s growth.
Have you gotten pulled into believing any of these Perfectionist Myths?
How do you see them playing into those internal voices that say you are “not ready yet” or “not good enough?”
I invite you to challenge perfectionism in your life and in your leadership with a simple and concrete action:
Give yourself a finite amount of time to work on a big project. Once the time is up, send whatever you have to a colleague or business ally for feedback, no matter where you are in the process.
Would you like access to more leadership capacity building practices? Contact me here or even better, schedule a free Discovery Coaching Call with me! I love talking with people!
I sent my email subscribers a challenge at the beginning of the month, encouraging them to practice bouncing. I didn’t mean the kind of bouncing that children do on backyard trampolines though! The art of the bounce is all about practicing resilience when your “20 seconds of Insane Bravery” do not yield the results you were hoping for.
Sometimes risk taking may bring you standing ovations and sometimes you will hear cat calls and boos. Some of your ideas will have enthusiastic fans and some will bring out the harshest critics – and the most outside of the box ideas are likely to generate both. Setbacks, letdowns and brutal criticism are practically a given once you begin to take risks, so developing the skills to recover gracefully and learn from them is vital to your growth as a leader.
How do you learn how to bounce?
- Explore your fears
Practice getting used to wins and losses, seek praise and reproach, get used to getting call-backs and being ignored. One way of doing this is to reflect on a feared outcome and ask yourself the question, “and then what?”. For example, if you are afraid you may experience severe criticism for your action, think about what it would feel like if it actually happened, and if the criticism came from someone you really respected. Ask yourself what would happen next? How would you respond? Keep asking yourself the “so what?” or “and then?” questions until you get to a place of accepting whatever the outcome is or the anticipated outcome becomes so outlandish that you realize the fear is overprojected, e.g. they will hate the idea, I will lose the gig, I will not find other work, I can’t pay the bills, I will be living in a tent in the woods… This is a great journaling exercise that can help you to uncover the real and imagined fear that is holding you back from stepping out in risk.
- Accept the existence of non-fans
It’s important to work on letting go of wanting to be liked by all and being known as a “nice person”. Ultimately, people are responding to the tape that is playing in their own head and their response is not a reflection of your worth and often not even an indication of the value of your idea. Learn what you can from your experience, allow people to have the reactions they have, mourn an unrealized opportunity if you need to and then turn to your next opportunity to reach for what you believe in. Practice not responding immediately to negative comments (especially on social media platforms!) to give yourself time and space to assess whether that response really warrants any energy back from you. Try and notice if there could be different ways to interpret another person’s comments or responses. Is there anything that you can take away from it that will aid your leadership journey?
- Seek candid feedback
For an even riskier way to practice the bounce, take this practice outside just your personal journaling time and invite some real feedback: Ask someone who is NOT a raving fan of yours for candid feedback on a recent project, action, or behavior. Listen and ask open-ended, non-leading questions: What worked for that person and what didn’t? What was the perception on the receiving end? Are there suggestions for alternative approaches? Thank your conversation partner for the feedback. Allow the message to settle. Consider what is being said to you, whether you see validity in the comments and how it may help you handle a situation differently in the future. Take valuable comments and consider how to put them into action. Put the rest aside. Walk on. Really. Walk away from the comments that were not helpful to you. Shake them off. Take a deep breath. Connect with yourself and feel that you are still whole, with immense talents to share and valuable contributions to make.
- Cherish support and praise
On those rare occasions when you do get standing ovations after your moment of insane courage, enjoy the moment! Accept the praise graciously and thank those who contributed to the excellent outcome. Tease out what exactly lead to the success so you will be able to draw from the experience in a similar situation in the future.
REFLECTION & ACTION
- What is the criticism that you are most afraid of? What fear is triggered? What do you believe the criticism or failure would uncover?
- What are other ways you could interpret criticism? What may be going on in the other person’s world may have played into a harsh response?
- What part of the criticism is constructive (you agree with it and you can choose to do something about it) and what part is puzzling, unhelpful, perhaps ill-spirited?
In one of my favorite scenes in the movie “We Bought a Zoo”, Matt Damon’s character (Benjamin Mee) talks to his son about facing fears and doing the unthinkable:
“All it takes is 20 seconds of insane courage, 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery, and I promise you something great will come of it!” ~ Benjamin Mee
How often have you shied away from doing something new because of a fear of failure? Do you only start things when you know you will succeed?
Becoming comfortable with uncomfortableness is a current mantra for many successful leaders. It is nearly impossible to grow without some level of discomfort. And yet, leaders often resist seasons of ambiguity and change even while knowing it is the right thing to be able to embrace the tension of those inevitable transitions and phases of not knowing the answers to questions yet.
So how do you start to appreciate ambiguity? How do you practice resilience? How do you begin to find your center in uncomfortableness and continue to breathe through it as scenarios unfold around you at a rapid speed?
I invite you to practice! You can “become comfortable with uncomfortableness” by doing things that get your adrenaline flowing and that stretch you into something new and never done (by you) before.
When you step into Insane Courage and take gasp inducing action, a few things may happen:
1. Wild Animals Threaten to Shred You to Pieces
Fight, Flight, Freeze responses are easily triggered in high-stakes settings. Trust that the “wild animals” in the corporate world may show their fangs and claws but you do not really have to fear for your life. Breathe. Create a pause to think and consider your options before you respond. Practice slowing down in the moment, so you act with intention and in control of your emotions. Trust that the sun will go down and rise again. Take it one step at a time.
2. A Royal Bust Unfolds
Your act of Embarrassing Bravery pivots into an unexpected direction and your idea falls apart for the world to see. Self-directed humor may diffuse tension and allow you recover more or less gracefully. Resisting the temptation to apologize before you know what to apologize for or if an apology is even necessary, exiting with flair and acknowledging the bust are some creative-productive options.
3. Awkward Silence
Invite a reaction and wait for it, wait for it, wait for it.
4. A Standing Ovation
Your idea takes off like a rocket ship and your audience is delighted. Accept the applause and the accolades, give credit to the people who supported you and enjoy your spotlight while it lasts.
When the enormous wave of adrenaline has ebbed and you are in back in your safety zone, take a caring look at what you think happened. There is something to learn from any of the above scenarios and more possible outcomes of stepping into the unknown. Stay clear of defensive reasoning and being overly critical of yourself. Own what you contributed to the situation, and consider what you would want to stop, start or change the next time you have an opportunity to practice insane courage. Reflect on your expectations and possible expectations of your audience and give yourself a pat on the back for having stepped into the arena of life and taking a chance.
REFLECTION & ACTION FOR GROWTH
What may be a gasp-inducing action you can take that would open new doors and new possibilities…
… in your professional life?
… in your relationships?
… in your personal life?
What is something you really, really, really want but you have not had the courage yet to take action on?
Create an opportunity for yourself that makes you gasp and that brings you closer to something that is important to you!
How resilient are YOU? Take a simple resilience survey to assess your readiness to handle ambiguity and challenges.
Take the survey HERE.
I would love to hear about your 20 seconds of bravery!
Friderike Butler, PCC, Human Potential Catalyst
Butler Communication – http://www.DevelopingCreativeLeaders.com