“I can’t help myself, I’m a perfectionist. I have very high standards, how’s that a bad thing?”
We all have heard this before and this is a question I get from my clients – senior and ambitious leaders who always strive for more. The truth is that there is nothing wrong with having high standards and having a strong desire to do great things. That is a worthy ambition and a healthy driver for success.
Perfectionism, however, is something else. Perfectionism is a full body suit. It is a relentless heavy armour, a metal barrier, an all-encompassing mask. People wear it in the quest to look great, to be seen as better, stronger, perhaps invincible and unmovable and no doubt destined to great things. And that is the very key to perfectionism – it’s not about who we are, it’s all about how we want to be seen. If you approach life in this way, you delegate control of your life to others. You let your beliefs on how others perceive you shape your life, shape what you wear every day, how you show up every day.
Make no mistake. This is an uncomfortable suit. It’s heavy, bulky and it restrains your natural movements. It’s so heavy it leads to paralysis and makes you feel stuck, unable to move in any direction. Wearing it all the time makes you feel drained and out of energy. People try their best to make sure that this suit, this shiny armour, has no holes. They spend their energy worrying whether that suit is clean enough, strong enough, pretty enough, completely oblivious to the fact that without creases, without holes, without cracks, no air can flow. No light can enter. No energy can move. No connection can happen.
That suit keeps us closed down and disconnected from the world, from those around us, from those we care about. It is the cracks, the holes, the imperfections that allow emotions, dreams and untested ideas to flow through. Those cracks, holes and imperfections allow others to connect and relate to us. Have no holes and you’ll have no connection. Have no cracks and you’ll have nothing to relate to.
To truly thrive, we need to get rid of this body suit, this heavy armour. We need to give ourselves permission to allow air, emotions, feelings and energy through those cracks. We need to embrace them and use them to engage with others and let others engage with us. To connect with others and to let others relate to us. To show our human side in all its dimensions.
Because at the end of the day, you can only lead people if they are willing to follow you and people will only follow you in the long run if they feel you are real, human, with great qualities but also with honest flaws. Those are the very same flaws that make your followers relate to you and believe they themselves can aspire to be better and strive for great things.