Know what’s truly freeing for a recovering perfectionist turned coach like me? Realizing that I don’t have to please everyone and I don’t have to know everything because a coach helps people come up with their own answers. I get to be me, have my own viewpoints, and take a stand on what I believe in, knowing that my viewpoint isn’t the only viewpoint to consider, though it IS worth considering. Then everyone else gets to choose if they resonate with who I am, what I stand for, and if they want to work with me. Alignment in core values = synergy and a successful collaborative relationship. When you speak through your fear and be yourself, trusting that you have a right to have a voice, you empower and embolden others to know that Truth for themselves too. — feeling the power of self-acceptance.
What do you think? I’d love to hear you share your voice by leaving me a comment below!
Certified Professional Coach, Author, National Speaker
Founder, Campus Calm®
I hope by sharing this very personal story with you, it will inspire you to stay strong and never give up on your leadership vision no matter what obstacles you face.
Last week my brand new TEDx Talk “Recovering perfectionist … my ass” was released via youtube. Within a week, I’ve had over 1,800 views, speaking invitation inquiries from colleges and women’s leadership organizations have come in from across the country and my Facebook Wall has lit up with congratulatory messages, praise, media buzz and support from friends, family and colleagues. It’s been a dream come true! It’s almost picture perfect. Then I had a conversation with an aspiring speaker that led me to tell the whole story. This novice speaker confided in me that she watched my video, compared herself to me, and felt like she was never going to be good enough to lead like she dreamed of doing. So I got real and told her the following story:
When I first began my public speaking career about six years ago, I wrote out my speeches and then stood behind podiums and read them word for word. I slowly grew my confidence one opportunity at a time, standing in my PJs practicing my speeches in my bathroom mirror! Then in 2010, I was invited to Orlando, Florida to lead two 75-minute workshops at the National Conference on Student Leadership (NCSL). I was excited and a bit terrified, counting down the days until I would make my debut on the national stage. To help me get my name out there and grow my speaking business, my husband helped me pay for the conference. Then five days before I was scheduled to leave for Orlando, I received some devastating, life-altering news from my family—news that sent my hypersensitive nervous system into overdrive. I stopped sleeping, my body trembled and my anxiety shot through the roof. I thought to myself, “How can I possibly speak at a national conference in the state I was in?” I concluded that I couldn’t. That’s when Perfectoria (my inner perfectionist; see my TEDx Talk) took charge. To protect me, she attempted to shut down my emotions and transfixed me into stone. I was nearly impenetrable. No emotion was going to come out of me, and no emotion was going to reach me.
On day one of the conference, I made it through my first presentation and did well. Then I did everything in my power to calm myself so I could sleep before my second presentation the following morning, a brand new presentation that I had never led before. I did a high intensity aerobics DVD on my laptop in my hotel to sweat out my anxiety. Then I did a Yoga DVD to calm my body down. I took a long hot shower. I prayed. I did a meditation DVD. I called my husband to say goodnight. I sipped chamomile tea. I took a homeopathic sleep aide. I fell asleep…for two hours. At 2am, I woke up in a panic. All of the emotions that I had been stuffing down to make it through the conference came pouring out of me and I burst into tears. I began hyperventilating–just like when I had a panic attack on the bathroom floor during a final exam my senior year of college, I was having one again. After about an hour, I stood to wash my face. With all the empathy I could muster up, I said to my reflection in the mirror, “You’re ok. You can get through this and be there for your family when you get home. Stay strong. I love you.” Then I did another meditation DVD, took another shower and meticulously curled my hair. I caked on layer upon layer of under eye concealer; then I put on mascara, eyeliner, lipstick and a nice dress and then headed out the door.
I led my workshop that morning in a packed-to-capacity room with student leaders from across the country. The presentation was called, “When A Equals Anxiety.” Ironic huh? I talked about the importance of making time for self-care and getting enough sleep, and not being so afraid to be imperfect. But all the students saw was a somewhat pale, exhausted speaker who clearly had not been sleeping herself, and they saw a speaker who was clearly afraid to be real about it. And boy did they call me out on it in anonymous feedback forms. Some students wrote that I was a “hypocrite”. Some rated me 1 out of 5 stars. Sure, some students rated me 5 out of 5 stars and gave me positive feedback, but to a recovering perfectionist like me, one less-than-perfect grade can be devastating.
So here’s what I did to persevere:
1. I reached out and asked for help. I called speaker mentors of mine whom I felt safe with and told them what had happened. I allowed them to comfort me, and I listened to their words of wisdom. I heard their war stories from the road; their negative audience feedback and, together, we laughed and released the shame. One mentor asked me to read her every positive comment I had received from the conference feedback forms. Then she asked me, “Why is it so easy to gloss over this and focus on the negative feedback?” Another mentor asked me, “How do you feel you did?” After a long pause, I took a deep breath and responded, “Given the circumstances, I showed up and did the best job I could.” He responded, “Then learn from this experience and move on.”
2. I did take the lessons and move on…eventually. I admit it, I expended more time and energy than I’d care to admit wondering if I was good enough to keep speaking and leading. After some real soul-searching, personal leadership development, coaching and prayer, I concluded that the students at NCSL couldn’t hear my message because they couldn’t connect with me because I wasn’t allowing myself to be real. By putting on my perfectionist mask to protect myself from the devastation I was feeling over a family crisis, I was also covering over my vulnerability and humanity, my power source as a leader. Even though that NCSL experience was painful, I am grateful for it because I learned so much about myself, both as a woman and as a leader.
A few years and many successful speaking engagements later, I sit here writing this blog post, full of gratitude and joy. My TEDx talk is out there in the world, going viral, and making a positive difference in the lives of all those who need it most. The viewer feedback has been so positive! And regardless of that feedback I receive from the rest of the world, when I watch the video, I’m deeply proud of myself for how far I’ve come. Beyoncé says it best in her new self-titled documentary Imperfection: “The reality is, sometimes you lose. And you’re never too good to lose, you’re never too big to lose, you’re never too smart to lose. It happens and it happens when it needs to happen. You have to embrace those things.”
I lost at a time when I most needed to lose because God knew I was ready to learn the lessons in resilience I needed to learn. In my TEDx Talk, I was more vulnerable and real than I’ve ever been before, so much so that the following day, I stayed in bed for a while and pulled the covers over my head. I was experiencing what Brené Brown calls a “vulnerability hangover.” But no matter how scary being vulnerable is, it’s worth the risk. I have opened myself up to the gifts that leading by example affords. So many women have written to me this past week to tell me that my vulnerability on that stage inspired them to be more open and real. Even men have been writing to tell me how my message has been helping them come to terms with their own inner critics.
The lessons I learned in resilience in the past three years led me here, able to fully breathe this moment in. I am good enough to lead and I always was. So is that young speaker I spoke with this week. And so are you!
How will you practice being resilient in moments of adversity?
How can that help you to grow as a leader?
In times of struggle, what could you do to be kind to yourself?
What does being vulnerable mean to you?
How could being vulnerable help you grow as a leader?
What is one thing you could do to practice being more vulnerable starting today?
If anything is holding you back from being more vulnerable, how could you breakthrough that?
Who can you enlist to support you?
How can you thank them?
What will you do to celebrate this accomplishment?
Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!
Founder & President
Campus Calm®, certified professional life coach, national speaker and author of Campus Calm University: The College Student’s 10-Step Blueprint to Stop Stressing and Create a Happy, Purposeful Life.
PLEASE WATCH AND SHARE! My dream is to get this video featured on the international TED.com website. Over 1,000 views in 3 days! @TEDxBuffaloWomen
I have a pet name for my inner critic. I like to call her Perfectoria. Because when I’m outside of my comfort zone, my default stress response is to control, perfect and overachieve. So when I was invited to give this TED Talk, instead of sitting down to write an outline for a 12-minute speech, I settled in and started to write a manuscript. And then I stopped when my husband (who knows me all too well) ever so gently reminded me that the TED tagline is “IDEAS worth spreading” …not 7-hour audiobooks worth spreading.
If you had asked me 15 years ago why I overachieve, my Perfectoria response might have been, “Because I’m interested in so many different things and I want to change the world in every way that I know how!” Smile big. And that’s partially true. But the other side of the story that little miss Perfectoria would be mortified to admit is that I overachieved for most of my life from of place of fear, inadequacy and self-doubt.
You see I have Endometriosis, a painful, chronic disease that affects approximately 176 million women and girls globally. When I was 13 and I got my first period, my hormones were severely unbalanced, a contributor to Endometriosis, and so my skin broke out. It was all over my face, my arms, my chest, my back. “Friends” called me zit face. When I was 14 and 15, I was hospitalized twice for a “ruptured ovarian cyst”.
Somewhere along the way, I think I made an unconscious choice that if I couldn’t
control what was happening to my body, well then I was going to control everything else. So I took antibiotics to bury my blemishes, I slapped on a thick coat of
COVERGIRL, and I covered right over the authentic, vulnerable girl within me.
Then I controlled. And I perfected. And I achieved … to the point of exhaustion.
In 2001, I graduated summa cum laude from college with a 3.92 GPA, the first woman in my family to earn a four-year degree. I completed a double major in English and history, a minor in Writing, a concentration in Women’s Studies while working two part-time jobs on the side. My resume was perfect but I was a wreck. I had a panic attack in the bathroom during a final exam. I graduated with stress and anxiety induced health problems. I survived.
But this isn’t just about my story. The next generation of women leaders, they are ambitious with a capital A. Their resumes are impressive. And they’re also one of the most anxiety-ridden generations of women in history.
Everyday, I receive emails from rising women leaders from all around the world. Carrie, a college student, wrote me to say: “I am sitting here afraid to complete this huge project worth 50 percent of my grade because I’m afraid it won’t be ‘good enough.’ Why? I have a 3.95 GPA and now I’m terrified of ‘blowing it.’ AHAHAH. How can I give this up and not let it rule my life?”
The pursuit of perfection, it doesn’t stop once we graduate. A business owner in her fifties wrote me to say, “Today, I spend in my business WAY more time than I need to, to complete anything. Whether it’s preparing an email, a report, a paper or a book, I waste so much time making sure it’s perfect.’”
You may be thinking, “But I’m a high achiever and there’s nothing wrong with that.” And you’re right! But there is a fine line between being a high achiever and a perfectionist. A high achiever is driven by a love of learning and a sense of purpose. A perfectionist is driven by fear based Ambition with a capital A. I have to be perfect or else people are going to FIND OUT that I’m not worthy or good enough.
You see, there are mental health issues in my family… anxiety, depression, addiction. The perfectionist in me has hidden this. But the high achiever in me just stood here and said it out loud for the first time in my life to a room full of strangers. Why’d I do that? It’s because that part of me, the real me, says, “Wow! I totally rock.” My family and I have been through some dark, serious, soul-wrenching shit, and while we are not through to the other side yet, we’re getting there. And rather than being ashamed of that because it isn’t perfect, I’m just going to celebrate that because it’s real.
What I learned through counseling, coaching, soul-searching, praying and a ton of
personal leadership development, is that it’s invented here (within). Because when our self-worth is constructed anywhere else except within ourselves and our Higher Power, we begin living our lives according to someone else’s plan. We fall victim to confusion and self-doubt. And we can chase perfection to mask that doubt.
But here’s the raw truth: Just because I learned the secret doesn’t mean that I remember to apply it. When my husband or girlfriends aren’t there to remind me, here’s how I remind myself: 1) I say, “Maria, stop the insanity.” Case in point: I used to spend days perfecting 2,000+ word blog posts. I’d pick the perfect photos, and the perfect fonts and the perfect colors for the headlines and subheads. I’d post it. What happened? … Not much. Why? Because no one had time to read it. Women are busy! I post a two-sentence idea to Facebook that has rawness and vulnerability and something real to say. People notice it. People comment on it. Ladies, it gets shared. Now does that mean that we never produce anything substantive ever again? Of course not! It just means that everything we do doesn’t require a Herculean effort to get a great result.
2) I say, “Maria, get real.” When I first began my public speaking career, I watched a webinar where the trainer warned that speakers have a split second to make a first impression with an audience, and studies showed that if a speaker used filler copy (like, um, yeah, you know) just ONE TIME they lose credibility with an audience. Yeah… Well, I gotta tell you my inner perfectionist LOVED that webinar! So I perfected my speeches, and I got out there and acted like I was the all-knowing, all-powerful guru who perfectly ditched my inner perfectionist. And how did the audience respond? Well, here’s some of the actual comments I received in anonymous feedback forms: “Too perfect.” “Show off.” “Not one ‘um’ ‘like’ ‘yeah’ or ‘you know’ in a whole 60-minute speech. Recovering perfectionist my ass!” And the worst comment you can get when you’re addressing an audience is …
So I took those comments along with a good look in the mirror and decided to
get real. I started speaking again and something different happened during Q&A and discussion: Women began taking the microphone and getting real too. Women saying, quote, “I have never experienced such a cleansing of guilt or shame before in my life.” “It felt like you were inside my head telling my story too.” Striving for perfection is not only exhausting, I’ve learned that it’s also the easy way out. How would your leadership journey be different if you risked sharing more of your humanity and invited others to the conversation?
3) Finally, I say, “Maria, it’s time to embrace all the parts of you, even your inner perfectionist.” I used to think that my inner perfectionist was this evil Gremlin that I had to silence or fight. Then last year, I was formally trained as a life coach, and I learned another perspective. When I’m outside my comfort zone, I learned that my inner perfectionist could be trying to protect me from being ashamed or embarrassed like I was when I was a 13 year old little girl getting teased for having acne. My inner perfectionist is a part of me. She’s trying to serve me, even though it may be in a misguided way. So instead of wasting energy fighting her, I’ve begun to forgive her, thank her, and then ask her to help me grow.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I say that a woman divided against herself cannot stand either. Imagine how freeing it would be to stop beating yourself up, and instead come home to all the parts of you.
Imagine how it would feel to teach that powerful lesson to your daughter, your niece, your granddaughter or another woman that you love. So start accepting that inner voice who is not only there to guide you but to protect you and lead you to a better place!
I’m a work in progress. So are you. So let’s lead by example to ignite a movement. The young women in our lives need a movement like that. You need a movement like that. I…I need a movement like that. My inner critic, Perfectoria and I, invite you to join me. Thank you.
When we measure our self-worth from any place outside ourselves, we fall victim to perfectionism, confusion and self-doubt.
If a college woman measures her self-worth by her GPA, tests are going to cause her quite a bit of anxiety. Getting a “B” or even an “A-“ can seen as a failure.
If I measure my self-worth by my ability to deliver the perfect keynote presentation or workshop, one less-than-perfect review may prevent me from being resilient and putting myself out there again. Or it may cause me to put on a mask when I step on the stage and cover up that what makes me most human, my vulnerability.
If a well-intentioned mom measures her self-worth by her ability to raise the perfect child, it may be unbearable to watch her kid make a mistake, or in some cases, to watch her grown kids choose a path that doesn’t match her expectations or dreams for them.
Ultimately it’s not the B, the bad review, or the child’s mistake that causes women so much shame, guilt, resentment and self-doubt, it’s the story we attach to it. If I’m not perfect, then I’m not … lovable, worthy, good enough or smart enough to hold my position and place in this world as a woman or as a leader. The root cause of perfectionism and self-doubt in generations of women is the attachment of our self-worth to our resumes, GPA’s and things outside of ourselves like our performance reviews.
What does an internally driven sense of worth look like? It’s a question that only we can answer for ourselves.
For me, it’s related to I AM statements rather than I do. Who are you when you’re just being rather than trying to accomplish something? I’ve asked this question to women and girls of all ages. Here are some of the responses:
I’m a light-bearer, a role model, a self-expressed leader, a change-maker, a sensitive soul, a beautiful being. I am grateful, playful, peaceful. I am love. I am whole, perfect and complete unto myself. I AM, not I DO.
If we can strip away our titles and still stand proud knowing who we are then we can be in a position to risk being vulnerable in front of others. We can risk “failure” to try new things, which really is the only way to reach success anyway.
We want accolades and recognition to know that we matter. How would our lives be different if we knew we mattered? If we knew we were good enough? Needing becomes wanting. Instead of, “I need to be perfect” we can change our story to, “I want to be good to myself.” “I want to connect with others.” “I want to be an authentic leader.”
What do you think? I’d love to hear you share your voice. Leave me a comment below!