Allow yourself, and even consider seeking opportunities, to be imperfect and/or fail. The more often we do something and it doesn’t work out as planned, the more we learn that we can handle it. The fear of failure often feels so big, so impossible to process and survive, but, when it comes down to it, we are all much more capable of withstanding step-backs and tolerating pivots than we may give ourselves credit for.
Many successful people are perfectionists. At the same time, they have the ability to say “Done is Better Than Perfect” and just complete and wrap up a project. What is the best way to overcome the stalling and procrastination that perfectionism causes? How does one overcome the fear of potential critique or the fear of not being successful? In this interview series, called “How To Get Past Your Perfectionism And ‘Just Do It’, we are interviewing successful leaders who can share stories and lessons from their experience about “how to overcome the hesitation caused by perfectionism.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Darcie Brown.
Darcie Brown, JD, MA, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and holistic wellness coach. Darcie is passionate about living an authentic and purposeful life and supporting others in understanding themselves on a deeper level and creating a life that makes them feel content and fulfilled. Darcie has been quoted as a wellness expert in Women’s Health, Bustle, Better by Today, and Best Life and has contributed articles to media outlets including Elite Daily and U.S. News & World Report. She has a YouTube channel where she posts accessible personal growth and mental health guides. She lives in San Diego, CA with her husband and their rescue dog, Piper.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I come from a family of self-starters, so hard work and perseverance were instilled in me from a young age. The year I was born, my father became a financial advisor and, together with my mother, started a financial planning company. While I saw the hard work involved in running your own business firsthand, I also saw tremendous benefits of autonomy, freedom, and flexibility. As I’ve grown in my career, I’ve realized more and more just how important these values are to me. Prior to becoming a psychotherapist, I was an attorney and lacked the freedom to truly control my schedule. Now, as a therapist with my own practice, I feel empowered every day as the director of my life, and that feels so gratifying.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Your best is always enough, and your best will vary day to day.” This is a version of what my parents have told me explicitly through words and implicitly through actions throughout my life. They have never expected perfection from me but encouraged and motivated me to give my best effort. Once, when I was looking back at my college years and how challenging certain classes were for me, I said to my mom, “I could have tried harder.” And she said, “No, you did the best you could at the time, given everything else you were dealing with.” I’ve held this mantra close to me as a reminder to be mindful of my energy levels and stressors each day and adjust my expectations of myself accordingly.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. One aspect of the book that really resonated with me is the idea that people don’t connect with perfection, they connect with imperfection. Since no one is perfect, we tend to connect with people who are honest about their flaws and who appear real to us. When we see someone as perfect, we tend to wonder why we can’t be more like them which often leads to disconnection. I love the emphasis in the book that being imperfect should be embraced, not only because it’s the only way we can be as humans but also because it allows us to take risks and pursue our dreams since our worth isn’t dependent on ideas or plans unfolding perfectly.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Courage: When I wanted to switch careers from law to psychology, I knew that there was risk involved. I had paid off my law school loans and felt incredibly proud of the financial achievements I’d made, including purchasing a home in Southern California by the age of 26. Did I really want to spend my hard-earned savings on another degree, when I didn’t have the guarantee that it wouldn’t turn out like my law career? It took courage for me to push through the loud voice of fear and trust that I had carefully considered my options and returning to school was the best decision for me to make at the time.
Self-awareness: I was only able to make the decision to leave law behind through self-awareness. I was in tune with just how unhappy law was making me, and I did the work to figure out other possible career options. I considered my values which helped me to understand the kind of lifestyle I wanted for myself. My desire to have children one day was a driving factor, and I saw how friends struggled to reenter the workforce after years away from a corporate job. I knew that my desire to be a business owner would align with my family planning goals. I could set my own hours, and I wouldn’t encounter as many challenges to reenter the workplace after pregnancy. Being in tune with my wants, needs, goals, and values were all crucial to the achievement of where my career is at today.
The ability to ask for help: No one can succeed alone, whether it’s a mentor, cheerleader, or ear to listen, we all need people who can support and encourage us. We aren’t meant to go through life alone. I couldn’t have gotten where I’m at today without the support of my parents and husband. For some it’s a mentor and others it’s a neighbor, therapist, or friend. Find those people who get you and allow you to be completely honest about what you want and also act a sounding board for you to learn and grow.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Let’s begin with a definition of terms so that each of us and our readers are on the same page. What exactly is a perfectionist? Can you explain?
A perfectionist is someone who holds themselves to an unattainable goal of perfection. Most often, people who would consider themselves perfectionists believe that nothing is ever good enough and that they can always do better. They are often on a never-ending hamster wheel to “get it right,” but oftentimes they don’t even know what would be good enough or what “right” would look like.
Perfectionism may also look like being excessively harsh with oneself for forgetting to do something, getting a piece of information wrong, or having even a single error on a work project. It typically means that messing up in any way, shape, or form is unacceptable and, when it happens, self-flagellation is warranted.
The premise of this interview series is making the assumption that being a perfectionist is not a positive thing. But presumably, seeking perfection can’t be entirely bad. What are the positive aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?
Perfectionists are often high achievers and hold themselves to impossibly high standards. At times, having perfectionistic tendencies can help you to achieve goals that you set for yourself and push you farther than you may otherwise push yourself. Having a high standard for yourself can also be a sign of self-confidence and being a goal-oriented person.
For example, someone who seeks perfection might stay 30 minutes late at work to do a final check of a project that’s due the next day. This might lead to finding some errors or doing some additional research which may lead to a more positive project outcome, a more favorable response from a manager, and an even faster climb up the corporate ladder.
For this reason, perfectionists often have positive reviews at work. The trouble comes in when their mental health is sacrificed (like if they stayed at work for 3 hours longer than they were supposed to and got less sleep than they usually would), and a balance between giving one’s best effort and holding oneself to an unattainable standard isn’t achieved.
What are the negative aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?
Perfectionism is an unrealistic standard, so it can be very frustrating and discouraging when we don’t achieve it. It can also hold us back from trying new things out of fear of not being perfect. Perfectionism is often tied to negative beliefs about oneself, and thoughts like “I’m only good enough if I’m perfect” may arise. This can be fuel for depression. Anxiety can also be a result of perfectionism as the fear of failure, saying something incorrectly, or appearing “stupid,” which might lead to excessive overthinking of one’s behavior.
From your experience or perspective, what are some of the common reasons that cause a perfectionist to “get stuck” and not move forward? Can you explain?
Oftentimes perfectionists get stuck because they feel that it’s not even worth it to try unless they can be assured that they’ll get it 100% right. And if they don’t get it right, there’s a fear that they will see themselves, and that others may see them, as not good enough. The negative self-talk can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, one that goes something like, “There’s so much I don’t know about this topic; my manager will be so disappointed if I miss something.” This thought then snow-balls into procrastination, which then leads to increased anxiety about the looming deadline which only causes further avoidance of the very thing causing the distress.
Here is the central question of our discussion. What are the five things a perfectionist needs to know to get past their perfectionism and “just do it?” Please share a story or example for each.
- Accept that perfection is an impossible standard. This has to be the starting point, and, for some, may necessitate therapy to uncover the root of one’s need to be perfect. For many, it stems from childhood expectations, whether it’s a parent implicitly or explicitly holding them to an unachievable standard or criticizing them for falling short of perfection. As mentioned above, one’s worth may also be tied to perfectionism, and that link might need to be severed in order to be able to accept anything less than perfection.
- That leads perfectly into my second point which is cultivating worth outside of being perfect. When we can accept that we are inherently worthy, it becomes a lot easier to let go of perfection. But inherent worthiness can be tough for some to accept. A starting point may be working to understand ourselves better, knowing our strengths and weaknesses, and identifying what brings us joy and purpose. All of these things contribute to our positive beliefs about ourselves which directly reduces the need for the weight of perfectionism to be so heavy.
- Allow yourself, and even consider seeking opportunities, to be imperfect and/or fail. The more often we do something and it doesn’t work out as planned, the more we learn that we can handle it. The fear of failure often feels so big, so impossible to process and survive, but, when it comes down to it, we are all much more capable of withstanding step-backs and tolerating pivots than we may give ourselves credit for.
- Learn compassionate self-talk. Inevitably, we will mess up or fail or do something we wish we hadn’t done. The need for compassionate self-talk is imperative. Self-compassionate talk can look like, “It’s okay; you tried your best.” Or, “Of course this is disappointing, and you learned a lot about yourself through this.” Learning to talk to ourselves with compassion is a practice, and it takes time and effort for it to become second-nature, especially for perfectionists. But, in my opinion, it’s absolutely worth the effort.
- Find others who understand you and can connect with your imperfections. Trying to be perfect can be very lonely, so, understandably, the more that we can find true connection and share our struggles, the more strength we’ll have to be able to withstand the hurdles we face in our lives.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I’d love for everyone to give therapy a try. I’m a therapist and currently see my own therapist. There’s so much value in having a safe space to learn more about yourself, heal from past hurts and traumas, and do the work to get to know yourself better and find more peace, joy, and fulfillment in your life.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Absolutely Brené Brown! She’s so inspiring, and I love how she presents ideas and thoughts in a way that’s so approachable and relatable.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!