Right from childhood, we seek to shield ourselves from vulnerable feelings like disappointment, hurt and diminishment. By building a wall out of our behaviors, emotions, and thoughts, we protect ourselves from the big bad world. But to live and lead with courage, as we already know, we must let ourselves be vulnerable. This means letting down our walls and recognizing protective thoughts and behaviors for the defense mechanisms they really are.
One of the most pervasive types of self-protection is perfectionism. To get success in any field, we must rid ourselves of perfectionism. To do so, let’s start by busting some of the myths around this damaging phenomenon.
Perhaps the most damaging myth of all is that perfectionism is about self-improvement and striving for excellence. But in fact, perfectionism is really about attempting to win approval. Most perfectionists are raised in environments that praise their exceptional performance, for example in athletics or school. As a result, perfectionists develop a damaging belief system that follows them into their adult lives, anchoring their whole sense of self in accomplishments and brilliant execution.
This locks perfectionists into an exhausting behavioral pattern of pleasing people, perfecting efforts, performing for others and proving themselves. People with a healthy drive for success, on the other hand, are much more self-focused and inspired by asking themselves how they can improve. It’s a stark contrast with perfectionists, who ask ‘what might others think of me?’
Significantly, leaders who armor themselves with perfectionism often assume that this way of thinking will bring them success. They couldn’t be more wrong because there is a much darker side to perfectionism, going way beyond the need to please.
Disturbingly, research shows that perfectionism is associated with addiction, depression, and anxiety. Furthermore, perfectionists are more likely to miss opportunities and experience mental paralysis that keeps them from fully engaging in life. Why? Because their fears of being criticized or not meeting the expectations of others keep them from entering the messy arena of life, where healthy competition and striving for true greatness occur.
So take off the armor of perfectionism and jump into the fray of life. You might make mistakes in the process, but you’ll gain something valuable in exchange: the courage to succeed.