I had an epiphany the other day listening to the chapter about perfectionism in Brené Brown’s Atlas of the Heart that she starts out stating that “shame is the birthplace of perfectionism.” She continues making the point that different from a healthy striving toward one’s personal best and excellence, perfectionism is externally driven by the question “what will others think?”
How often have I told myself and so many others, when I was agonizing about anything from client communications to setting the dinner table for guests, that I just was a perfectionist; everything had to be just so – perfect. Was this always healthy striving for excellence or unhealthy perfectionism? For sure mostly the latter. I focused mostly on others, not myself!
So, when did this change? When did I become much mellower – most of the time – and so much happier? When did I get over my addiction of being perfect? When did I change from being a socialized mind to a self-authoring mind?
Reflecting about this, I come to see that the turning point for me was really when I had teams working with me on projects and I was focusing on teaching and mentoring my younger colleagues. One of a sudden, mistakes became learning opportunities rather than threats of impending shame, judgment and blame. Others’ fears and opinions about our team making mistakes became objects rather than something that “had us”, i.e., subject.
Maybe I am on to something here. Maybe one way of helping my clients to rise from being perfectionists to healthy strivers and learners is to help them expand and focus their minds on becoming teachers and leaders.