Perfectionism: the Sneaky Saboteur of Authenticity

As a reformed perfectionist, I could argue that there is a lot of good that it can deliver.  It drives a desire for excellence.  It goes hand in hand with conscientiousness, a known attribute for career and life success.  It can fuel a learner’s mindset.

Our response to perfectionism is personal.  Some display perfectionism like a badge; owning it proudly as a strength they bring to the table.  Others more privately succumb to the relentless toll that perfectionism levies.  

Regardless of how we’ve framed its presence in our life, it is the consequence of the mental models that knowingly or unknowingly accompany perfectionism that can sabotage our efforts toward authenticity. 

  • Just work on it some more to be sure, perfectionism tells us, leading us to under represent the time and energy we have invested in our work or life output.  
  • You’ll never do it well enough, its gremlin whispers, keeping us from appropriately claiming our accomplishments with healthy esteem, accuracy and humility.   
  • You should already know how to do this (without ever having a learning period), it taunts, preventing the authenticity and vulnerability to ask for help or share the struggle.
  • Other’s know what they’re doing and you don’t, it can say,  prompting us to feel different and like we don’t or can’t belong with others,  which makes authentic social rapport and connection burdensome.
  • Stay under the radar, it coaches, blocking us from owning our voice and contributing our thoughts and ideas.
  • Don’t fail, it warns, preventing us from enjoying or trying those things that interest us.
  • Don’t let them see that this doesn’t come easy and it needs to look a specific way for others, it shames, distancing us from our humaneness.

Authenticity can be thought of as a competency, much like many of the other competencies that form the foundation for strong leadership and life success.  It is a key ingredient in psychological safety, influence, collaboration, and emotional intelligence.  It is one of the hardest competencies to fake as our brain is wired to pick up on a myriad of details that tell us if something rings true and if we will be trusted. 

If you’re on a quest for bringing forward more of your own authenticity, giving some thought to if and how perfectionism might be playing a role in your life is a place to start. 

(Wilmot, Ones, 2019: Duckworth, Weir, Tsukayama, Kwok, 2012: Gordon, 2016: Thornton, 2015: Farnam Street, 2020)

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