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February 8, 2019

Dear Valentine, You’re Far From Perfect. The Undeniable Advantage Of Loving You Anyway

Progress. Not Perfection

Progress: the undeniable advantage of loving yourself, just the right amount. Not so much it’s selfish.  Not so little we put others’ needs first and dismiss our own as luxuries. Just the right amount.

Because striving for perfection is an unhealthy driver. Motivation morphs into the extrinsic need to prove our worth to others.  Its pendulum swings from doggedly making efforts that can never pay back consistently and feel precarious even when they do.

Because we’re all human.  And take a long time to stop punishing ourselves when we fall short. Or get rejected.  Or make a mistake.  Or recover from the shame of a rejection whether that’s in a relationship, redundancy or our business. We grieve.  With a tendency to hide. Shutting out support that might otherwise be available to us. If we didn’t feel so far from perfect and opened up.

Which is why harnessing the power of progress is an undeniable advantage.  Progress will see us flourish instead of flounder when we face setbacks. Which matters because floundering is a risky place to get stuck. It sucks the joy out of everything we do and our trust in the future.

My coaching lives at this intersection of professional and personal. On purpose. Because I passionately believe we can only feel fulfilled if what we do has synergy with our most strongly-held values.

One high-end client showcased the point so powerfully this week I want to share some of her story. She would shudder to hear herself called a committed careerist – yet has worked for one of the worlds’ largest financial institutions for many years.

Why shudder? Because she’s been stuck the wrong side of a career transition she knew she needed to make nearly 10 years earlier. Feeling ever more desperate to make contributions that would bring meaning and so, living without the sense of wholeness she craved.  She’s achieved lift-off now I’m delighted to report, but the point for you is this:

Inner commentary was the clear culprit in getting stuck.

For a decade.

So, I invite you to give yourself the undeniable advantage that only comes

with just the right amount of self-love. Progress. Here’s how you can change the script with your inner-perfectionist and progress instead.

The Poison Of Perfectionism

Insecurities.  Doubt. Inner-critic. Negative self-talk. Sanity-checks. We all collect these voices. They awaken in time to be our harshest critic, giving out-dated advice whenever we get close to making change happen. Blind to whether that change is the progress we’ve been striving for.  Or what we need to be authentically happy.

And the toxic whispering doesn’t stop when we achieve either. Because this voice doesn’t speak to progress.  You may have felt its’ presence even as you succeed at a momentous milestone, when a whole new landscape of downward self-comparison comes into view?  Because we’ll always be far from perfect when we level up because we now compare to better established, more successful others.

Thought-patterns like these, even if they feel fleeting, poison our efforts to progress.  Because, like a toxic lover, we let them move in when we weren’t ourselves.  Along with their whispering at all the worst moments. And now floundering is a default mode, triggered by successes and set-backs alike. And may as well be poison to our progress.

The Antidote

I offer you the antidote in these 3 speedy but significant steps:

  1. Recognise whether you have a pathological addition to perfectionism. Or just hear whispers from time to time.

With self-awareness you will qualify as a recovering perfectionist!  And this is your first undeniable advantage.

Consider these 10 questions. Do they ‘sound like you’? Decide based on your instinctive first answer and count up how many get close to thoughts you recognise as your own.

  • When something goes wrong, you attribute that to someone or events outside of your control
  • You are not flexible in your thinking. Things are right or wrong. And you will defend your position rather than employ curiosity or flex to another perspective
  • You are motivated by others’ perception of you and your successes. You seek to please, fit or impress to the point you’ve lost touch with who you are at your core
  • You switch direction or step back from goals when the going gets tough and favour something easier to achieve instead.
  • You anticipate future worst-case scenarios so you can prepare for them, and don’t slow down to celebrate successes along the way
  • You think negative emotions are something to avoid. Or plain fear them. You make choices through this lens of avoidance.
  • Your default mode is to micromanage others so things can’t fall off-track. Your track.
  • If something isn’t exactly right, it’s wrong. Concepts like ‘just different’, ‘learning from mistakes’ are not accepted as valid
  • You are fiercely independent and only trust life if what happens next is up to you. By relying on yourself to this extent, it often won’t occur or feels too uncomfortable to ask for support. Which you secretly resent others not offering
  • You catch yourself thinking: I’ll be happier when…

The more statements that resonated (sounded like you), the more of a perfectionist you are.  Calculate your percentage.  All awareness is good, but anything over 40% is getting in the way of being your best self and 60% or above is indicative of more entrenched perfectionist patterns.

  1. Now consider the career-life specifics you’re facing. What feels out of synergy? Do you hold a bigger vision for yourself than you’re what you are doing today? What inner-commentary is holding you most stuck in your career-life?

A well-trained coach has the skillset to recognise your inner-commentary when it shows up within conversation. No matter how well-worn its disguise might be.  It often expresses ‘financial realities’, or ‘responsibility to others’. Fear of failure is common, as is Being Seen and Fear of Success too actually.

You’ll need to really consider this because it’s been operating out of sight for a long time. Get support from someone else if you can.

Give it a name.  Literally label it or have some fun, personifying ‘it’. You’ll know when it resonates for you. And it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else!  This culprit character is more tangible with a name – and for living in the open instead of operating undercover.

Know that you are now at an advantage. This culprit, who you are now well-equipped to recognise, is actually working to keep you safe. From danger, risk-taking, from the very many things that fall under the heading ‘potential for catastrophe’. By not going for that promotion, or reimagining what you do as you became a parent, or lose your job, or curate business growth around your passion platforms now you’re a leader, this character thinks it protects us from bitter career-rejections.

Don’t let self-doubt set in as I say that. The commentary has been misguided for a long time – offering advice that long since expired. Because it remembers how badly we floundered in the face of some past change.

But today it blocks us from our future vision. If we follow its lead, we shut off from fresh possibilities. And the opportunity to flourish they might bring.  Without understanding why, we habitually isolate our true selves from what could be.

  1. Your New Script

Expect this culprit, your old frenemy to make an appearance.  Again and again.

Understanding the well-meaning intentions as you do now, there’s nothing to fear. Just commentary from your frenemy.

You’re ok. Repeat: You’re ok, you’re ok.

Then say:  Hello (Ermintrude)

(Give it your own name! I chose Ermintrude because the silly cow went round in circles on a magic roundabout when I was young.  On a kids TV show, not in my head! I later understood the creator may have been out of his…head!   Feels funny on a few levels.  And so I get off my ridiculous roundabout, stop circling and make progress in the real world)

Hello (Ermintrude)!  Been expecting you!

Thanks for coming.  I hear you. But I’m ok.

I’ll take it from here. And now we’re through.

You can use this script with certainty and confidence. By ‘meeting’ the culprit, whatever you name them, you know your commitment to this choice has been tested. Not out of fear. Because you can unpick the point behind their whispering.  Is there something worth paying attention to here?  Are you exposing yourself to risk in pursuit of happiness? And if so, what can you do to address that? How can you create a safety net?

Do that. Then take action anyway.

You might not rush to leave the corporate pay-check behind until you’re consistently earning a target figure via your passion project. Then slide your professional week down to facilitate its growth until it can stand up as the main income stream?  Progress. Not perfection.

Some leadership clients clarify a 5-year vision they hold for themselves and put shape to quarterly milestones that will see them achieve what they want in career-terms, on their terms and even stretch this to optimising their people.  Progress. Not perfection.

Others have used getting to know their Culprit’s motivations to gain enough confidence to move country to realise a professional dream. Feeling ‘enough’ trust in the future because while they could still see the potential for failure (and the disruption that would bring), they used the revelation to inform them how to set themselves up for success. They’re ok.  Progress.  Not perfection.

The watch-out here is that your Culprit has been a seamless part of your thinking for a long time.  This work can be harder to unpack effectively than it is to read about. Because we’re not experienced at knowing ourselves, warts and all – but loving ourselves anyway.  Even ‘just the right amount’!

There is one tool I find powerful for even my most contained clients.  I would encourage you to go take time and go in stages.

But however you send your love letter, please sign off with this:

 P.S: Stop trying for perfect. You’re not. Love you anyway xx

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Helen Hanison  |  Contribution: 145