Louise Gallagher over at Dare Boldly published a great post this week that was titled “Pride: it cometh after the fall too“. In it Louise discusses how our pride can get in the way doing what really needs to be done because we’re too worried about what others might think, instead of worrying less about how we’re perceived and just doing the right thing.
I had an opportunity for such an experience this week, although it was quite a small thing. My daughter had left her shoes under her desk at a company we both worked at and had asked me to bring them home for her. I sensed that rising sense of pride that was asking me how stupid I would feel wandering through the office with a pair of women’s four-inch heels in my hands. Fortunately I did it anyway and found an unexpected benefit of taking that risk, of being vulnerable. The inevitable comments such as “Ian is there something you aren’t telling us?” and “those don’t really look like your size” didn’t land as blows to my pride. They landed as very human connections born of putting myself out there … of just being happy to help and be myself.
A more substantial reminder of this came as I was working with a client over the past couple of weeks. My client was seeking to understand what was behind their tendency to procrastinate on finishing significant work tasks. It wasn’t starting the task that was at issue … it was finishing. With exploration we uncovered that the issue was an anxiety that the work wasn’t perfect. With another look at it, improvements could be made. Then the cycle repeats again. The anxiety begins to morph into something like shame that the work isn’t getting done, making it even harder to just say “I’m done!”
Pride is the bane of vulnerability. Our pride wants us to be perfect, where vulnerability asks us to rejoice in our imperfections, which in turn allows us to give the best we have to give at that particular moment. It takes courage to be imperfect. If our mindset is “I know I’m not perfect, but I’ve done my best … now I’ll ask for feedback” it is surprising how affirming the reactions to us can be. We tend first to hear affirmation about the quality of our work, and most times others engage more deeply trying to help make the effort even more successful.
I mention Brené Brown regularly in my posts, and she comes to mind strongly here. Her second book “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.” In this book Brené discusses what her research has shown her about the power of living wholeheartedly and embracing vulnerability. The book discusses ten guideposts to overcoming shame and knowing we are worthy of the gifts of imperfection. All ten of these guideposts are enlightening, but there are three that resonate most with me on this topic of pride.
Guidepost #1: Cultivating Authenticity: letting go of what people think.
According to Brené, authenticity is “the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are”. I think that is bang on. A large percentage of what I experience as pride is the need to live up to what I think others expect of me. I would also say that when I am driven by pride, I feel smaller, younger, less significant and more judged than when I follow Brené’s advice and just let go of those expectations. that can be easier said than done. It comes down to the ability to know that we did the best available to us in a particular moment, and knowing that we did so in complete respect and acknowledgement of the needs, thoughts and feelings of others. It isn’t necessary to do the best we’ve ever done, just the best we had available to us right then.
Guidepost #2: Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting go of perfectionism.
I’ve played golf for 40 years, and over that time I would guess that I’ve hit less than 5 “perfect” shots a year. That would put me at a perfection rate of somewhere less than 0.5%. If I were to use that as my sole measurement of why I golf, it would take about three nanoseconds to quit the game and move on to something else. Perfection isn’t my goal. It is a myriad of other things that feed me: camaraderie, exercise, nature and temporarily enjoying the transcendence of a great shot. I wasn’t always that golfer, and I’m still not always that golfer. There are times when I’m not accepting of a poor shot. This week I had one of the top rounds of my life after 17 holes, and I said to myself that I should be happy even if I made a 10 on the last hole. The golf gods decided to challenge that internal statement and I made a 9, which took the shine off my score. There was a part of me that still wanted to be annoyed about messing up a great round. But the joy for me came from knowing that I still had a great round, and recalling just how much fun it was shooting the lights out for 17 holes, and knowing that a 14 handicap shoots an occasional 9.
How would it go for us if we brought that same approach to all of our life’s ventures? What if we valued the quality of our inputs more than the quantity of our outputs?
Guidepost #5: Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting go of the need for certainty.
This particular guidepost impacts me strongly. In fact I probably have some form of addiction to needing to know what is coming next, and the rub is that rarely happens. Certainty is just another form of perfection, where we know “perfectly” what is going to happen next. I think we all know that life isn’t like that. We can strive for perfection in most things, and very rarely reach our target.
The difficulty arises when we can’t acknowledge that state called “good enough”, where the trust we place in ourselves and our work provides a power that feels like ego-less confidence. When we have this confidence, we can share our efforts openly with others for feedback, with faith that they will honor our efforts and collaborate to push us further down the path of success.
I love the anticipation of landing in such a collaborative relationship. That is where the courage of imperfection comes in. If we can move past the risk of being judged “imperfect” and create essential connection with others interested working with us, then we find ourselves in a space where insight and progress are born.
How do you experience imperfection? Is it something you easily allow to happy? Or do you struggle to find perfection in everything you do?