On Giving Up Being a Perfectionist

If you sit down at my desk, you will see inspirational messages all around my workspace; messages about courage, kindness, and growth. One of my favorite quotes at my desk is from Brene Brown. It says, ‘Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.’ You see, I consider myself a ‘recovering perfectionist’ and vulnerability is hard when you are trying to appear perfect.

As a young professional, I was incredibly hard on myself whenever I failed or perceived myself as failing. I would allow a small mistake – using a word incorrectly or a miscommunication with a colleague, plague my confidence for weeks. I regularly taught college courses as part of my job. After I would teach, I always had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that I couldn’t name, until one fateful day, an email landed in my Inbox with an article about ‘the vulnerability hangover.’ The term resonated deeply with me. A vulnerability hangover for me was an extreme self-consciousness (and often self-criticism) that would happen after I put myself out there in a public way.

The vulnerability hangover, coined by Brown, often crippled me from trying new and hard things. However, learning this concept was common enough to be given a name was liberating! I began to dig deeper into vulnerability, and found it is defined by Brown as “uncertainly, risk, emotional exposure.” Vulnerability sounded pretty scary – why would I intentionally enter into vulnerability with a definition like that? It turns out that while vulnerability is risky, it is also a place of great rewards, including innovation, creativity, joy, and growth. When we are vulnerable, we open the opportunity to improve and excel.

In Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she shares a related concept called the growth mindset. People who embrace the growth mindset believe “that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and with help from others.” People with the growth mindset (versus the fixed mindset) celebrate failure, as failure is where growth and learning are apt to happen.

As you approach your work this week, consider these questions to help you investigate your own experience with vulnerability and the growth mindset.

  1. When was the last time I tried something new?
  2. When was the last time I failed?
  3. Do I seek out opportunities to celebrate my and others’ effort in addition to our successes?
  4. When something goes wrong, do I get curious about what happened and look for growth opportunities?
  5. Do I accept constructive feedback as an opportunity to grow?
  6. Do I help my colleagues grow by sharing my knowledge and expertise?
  7. Do I seek opportunities to learn from my colleagues and tap into their experience and expertise?

Today, I focus on practicing self-forgiveness, keeping my standards of myself and others reasonable and attainable, to trying new things even when it is scary. I still have to fight the perfectionist urge, but with practice, I improve every day.

Posted in Tips and Tools

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Christopher Hooten

Thank you for your perspective. This is very helpful.

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