I have recently joined ToastMasters to improve my public speaking. So I was surprised by my own inner self-talk while preparing my very first speech, known as an icebreaker.
“I’m not going to share a simple story about myself,” I thought. “That’s too easy. I’m going to share a message that will leave them utterly changed. People will leave that room blown away with my insight and they will want more. And I won’t use notes. Everyone will be so impressed.”
Eww. The goal of those thoughts was completely against why I had joined ToastMasters in the first place. I had signed up to learn, acknowledging that I don’t have this all together right now. I had a genuine willingness to learn. And yet, when I started preparing for this speech, my willingness to be taught by others morphed into a quest for perfection and accolades.
On the one hand, I was caught in the internal struggle of perfectionism: I needed it to be absolutely right before releasing it to the world.
On the other hand, I was looking to others to validate my arrival.
As perfectionists, we want others to tell us our work is marvellous. We want standing ovations and encores when we first arrive. That’s how we know our work is perfect.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do our best. There is occasionally a strike of beginners luck. But it becomes a problem when we start expecting a response from others to validate how wonderful we are.
It was incredibly selfish of me to think that my ToastMasters group would have nothing but praise. Criticism is built into the program as it provides an opportunity to learn and develop. Fellow ToastMasters are there with the mindset of helping each other, helping me. Yet, my own ego and perfectionism would undermine this feedback I was in fact asking for.
That’s the tipping point, I believe. When we expect “recognition of that success” from others, we are trying to control things outside of our control. That’s what perfectionism is, in fact, a control trip.
We want everything – our experience, the reactions of others, the work – all firmly within our control. To open ourselves to the messy business of learning, of imperfect action and constructive criticism is to relinquish too much control, take on too much risk.
So we don’t.
Nothing goes out into the world. No feedback comes back in from the world. Stagnant, our fear and ego ferment.
“Who are we to teach if we have not mastered the craft?” We ask ourselves, to justify our lack of action. “Who are we to create, make, write, suggest, promote?”
Imperfect action is the only thing that can change this state of being.
One shaky, messy step forward into the mud. Exposed, vulnerable and uncomfortable. Not just asking for feedback but willing to hear it, willing to apply it, willing to allow ourselves to be imperfect and for these imperfections to be clear to us and everyone else.
That is how we grow.
As we build this habit of bravely receiving feedback, we are able to develop our craft. Each shaky step falls on firmer ground. Soon, we’re through the marshes and heading to the highlands.
Will you continue to cling to your perfectionism and choke your growth? Or will you be open to the truth that you’re not perfect but you are capable or developing?
Here’s my raw image, pre-editing in it’s imperfection…