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Owning Imperfection

Our allergy to risking and potentially failing, all the while worshiping at the altar of perfection, may actually be hindering our health, happiness and achievement.
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We have all encountered that person who identifies their flaws as follows: "I'm a perfectionist. I can't settle doing work that isn't my best." If, like us, you find this grating and just a tad disingenuous, perhaps we need to take an honest and closer look in the mirror. Research indicates that there are actually adverse effects of perfectionism, perhaps ironically including hindered performance and increased stress. We are much better off, both in terms of work-quality and our quality-of-life, when we cultivate the art of offering genuine care to a given task, even if it means feeling like we are slowing down (which we're really not) or experimenting with an idea or strategy that may ultimately not work out. And, as any entrepreneur will advise, the path to success is paved with failures. Thus, our allergy to risking and potentially failing, all the while worshiping at the altar of perfection, may actually be hindering our health, happiness and achievement.

The practice of nurturing our complexity as human beings -- each with myriad work experiences, personal experiences, relationships, ideas, emotions and, yes, flaws -- results in finding harmony, unity, in our inherent diversity. Think of the most fascinating people you know -- they are likely to be an amalgam of skills, traits (positive and negative), values, quirks and talents that they own. Uniquely. As Brené Brown writes in The Gifts of Imperfection, "Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen."

In other words, strength is not equivalent to perfection. As Brown discusses in her book, there is strength in vulnerability -- in recognizing that we are taking a risk to learn, to make connections, and to give up on the cycle of self-criticism. "Cruelty is easy, cheap, rampant," Brown writes. So take the risk to do what is challenging, valuable, and special: Respond to your "imperfections" with kindness and embrace them as part of your experience, like any other, part of what makes you authentic.

When we tap into our authentic selves, we are more open to collaborating and learning from others. Owning our imperfections opens us up to the benefits of seeking feedback and participating in team efforts. We have seen with our clients that leaders who are afraid to acknowledge when they don't have an answer, and who try to mask concerns or mistakes are far less effective than those who hire to meet gaps in their expertise, own any errors in judgment and create constructive lessons from failures. Perfectionism keeps us from showing our true selves, as to be "perfect" is to cover-up important parts of our complex make-up, to pretend they don't exist. But perfection is impossible, plain and simple -- so to negate the existence of our flaws is to say we are not open to challenging ourselves, appreciating our resourcefulness and adaptability, improving our communication skills and realizing the flexible definition of "success."