Heal Your Wounds. Now with all of this being said, the reality is that perfectionism can have damaging effects on mental health or the capacity to “just do it.” The ability to do any of these four things can be impaired because of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and a host of other mental health challenges. So if you’ve been trying all these things and they still don’t seem to be giving you the results you desire, it may be helpful to seek out professional support. You may have childhood, emotional wounds that require professional expertise to help you overcome.
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 Dr. Marcuetta Sims.
Dr. Sims is a Licensed Psychologist, Yoga and Meditation Teacher, and the Founder of the Worth, Wisdom, and Wellness Center in Atlanta, GA. She specializes in helping Black women and women of color heal from childhood wounds and trauma that lead to perfectionism, low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression so that they can live more full lives and actually thrive. Dr. Sims is passionate about reducing the stigma associated with seeking help and prioritizing mental health and wellness in the same ways we prioritize other aspects of overall well-being. She believes that healing is contagious and as we heal ourselves, we in turn help others to heal.
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?
Thank you so much for having me!
I’m originally from Southern Illinois, East St. Louis to be exact. I left home to attend my dream school, Spelman College which set me on the path to being a Psychologist. It’s a pretty significant pivot from the actress that I thought I was going to be when I grew up, but it’s become my passion. As a kid, I enjoyed giving advice to others and being a shoulder to cry on, which is why I believe I naturally fell in love with the field of psychology. I now know intimately that there is so much more to it, but it seemed like the “perfect” career path for me.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite Life Lesson Quote is from a poem by Marianne Williamson, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…Your playing small does not serve the world” I remember when I first heard this quote in the film Coach Carter because it resonated with me so much that I was overwhelmed with emotion. It was as if they were speaking directly to me. I’ll get more into this later, but perfectionism can often make you feel like you’re not good enough and make all of your efforts and achievements feel like raindrops in the ocean. This scene, this quote, reminds me on a daily basis that I am more than enough; that there is a power within me that is beyond measure. We often have some awareness that we are amazing, that we are great, that we are powerful, but because the world can often make it feel more safe to be small, we fear this power and actively try to avoid it. This quote, this entire poem, reminds me to step fully into the space that is created for me, then make it bigger, so that others can expand as well. This quote reminds me to move past the fear, so that I can have a larger impact on the world. If I allow myself to stay small, I limit my reach and the impact that I can have on others.
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 podcast that has made a significant impact on my personal life, my professional life, and my business is The Money Sessions. Every. Single. Episode. This podcast resonates with me so much because it called me out in all the ways that I had been avoiding and ultimately in all the ways that I was keeping myself small and preventing my own growth and expansion. As a Black woman, as a Licensed Psychologist, as a mental health professional, as a helper, I regularly receive messages that I have to put the needs of others before my own. I didn’t realize the ways that this was showing up professionally and clinically until I really started to tune into this podcast and do the mental and emotional work. When I preach the message “take care of yourself and meet your needs first, put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others,” then I turn around and do the exact opposite, I am not being honest with myself or the people I am serving. Integrity is one of my most important values. This podcast made me realize all the ways I was actually out of integrity in my life and my business and challenged every belief that I had about my profession, my money mindset, and my role in being of service. It also helped me to expand into being comfortable with having more, asking for more, and wanting more while increasing my free time, my energy, and my resources. As a result, I can invest more in the people, things, and causes that are meaningful to me.
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?
Humility. Integrity. Perseverance.
Humility. When I think of humility, I think of honoring what I do know and what I am really good at while also being able to take constructive feedback, ask for help when needed, and tap into the resources that are available to me rather than running on a hamster wheel trying to figure everything out myself. This is something I believe I excel at. I have a lot of knowledge, skills, and abilities that I’ve implemented over the years to create success in multiple facets of my life. However, I am quickly able to recognize a gap or an area that is outside of my area of expertise and take the necessary actions to rectify it. The part that I am getting increasingly more comfortable with is, this doesn’t mean spending some time on google searching for the answer or a DIY method. Instead, it often means reaching out to others and saying, “please help.” I believe a message that has been passed on from working class backgrounds and even from generations of people whose lives and possessions have been snatched away from them, is that we have to do it all ourselves. If you rely on others, they might fail you. You can’t trust other people. So I’ve had to unlearn that narrative. It can be really smart and save a lot of time to seek out the help and support of others. I’ve learned that it doesn’t make me less successful, knowledgeable, or skilled, it actually gives me more capacity to work in my zone of genius. But there is a great amount of humility needed to admit that you can’t do it all yourself (even though we already know that deep down).
Integrity. I pride myself on being a person of integrity. I believe that being a successful business leader is ensuring that your words match up with your actions and vice versa. I am a values-driven business leader and I allow my values to dictate how I show up in my business and in my personal life. I surround myself with people who share similar values because this helps to keep me grounded and focused on what is most important. I believe that to be honest and clear is to be kind. When people are unsure about your intentions, your motivations, your beliefs, your values, they are also unsure of whether they can trust you. A large part of the work that I do is built on people’s ability to trust me, but I do not believe that trust just has to be given. Trust must be earned and the ways in which we create safe spaces for people determines the level of trust they are able to develop. I believe that integrity is the foundation of creating a safe space for others. If I am dishonest, inconsistent, and lacking clarity, I imagine it would be difficult to be considered a trustworthy person or business leader. However, when I am honest, consistent, and clear, I believe the ability to build and maintain relationships increases significantly. As a business leader, I strive to build strong relationships with everyone who engages with my business and that starts with integrity.
Perseverance. Let’s be honest, having and running a business is hard, and turning it into a successful business is Hard. Work. There are plenty of days where I’ve felt like it would be easier to just go back to a salaried job where someone else is responsible for the overhead, the day-to-day responsibilities, the systems, the structure, etc. However, perseverance keeps me going. In order to be a successful business leader, I have to be focused on one thing and that is the success of my business. Something that helps me to persevere and stay focused is going back to my Why. Why did I start this business? What does it mean for my family? For my future? How can I impact the world differently as a business owner rather than working for someone else? Being clear on the answers to those questions always inspires me to show up another day. It’s imperative to acknowledge that this is challenging and to remind myself that I can do hard things, I have done hard things, I’ve accomplished difficult challenges, and I can continue to overcome any trial and tribulation that may arise. My purpose also helps me to persevere. I believe there is a calling on my life to have this business and since I am called to it, challenges are not dead ends, but opportunities to create a path around. What I mean by this is, sometimes on the road to success you come to a roadblock and maybe you have to pivot. A roadblock does not mean just go home (i.e. give up), nor does it mean that you just sit there in the middle of the road and hope that the roadblock goes away (i.e. do nothing). A roadblock means that you have to come up with a different plan, strategy, method, or tap into another resource, to figure out a way around, under, over, or through. Perseverance is the key to getting through the difficult times and I always end up much wiser on the other side.
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?
There are actually a ton of positive aspects of being a perfectionist which is why it is so appealing and why it’s so easy to fall into. First and foremost, perfectionism is positively reinforced. You get straight A’s in school, you’re rewarded with praise, accolades, scholarships, celebrations, etc. You spend hours working on a project at work to get it just right and your boss promotes you. You plan the perfect vacation, with every detail worked out and everything goes just as you planned. Perfect vacation. You get compliments on how well dressed you are or how good you look after spending half a day getting ready to go out.
There is also a lot of success that comes from being a perfectionist. Most successful business owners, thought leaders, CEOs, or anyone who has climbed any success ladder can likely tell you that at some point they identified as a perfectionist. The focus of perfection typically produces a lot of great results. The products are immaculate. Service is great. The attention to detail is unmatched. Perfectionist are very organized and strive to get it done right! Who doesn’t want to work with someone like that? So the message gets communicated that if you or your life is perfect, then you have success. Perfection looks really good. I think about social media and how most times people try to post their most perfect portrayal of their life so we get to see this wonderful highlight reel. It gets people excited and inspired, it builds hope and it’s something to look forward to. Perfection is extremely appealing to the eye.
Lastly, perfection keeps you safe. There’s a belief that if the thing is perfect, if you are perfect, if the product is perfect, then there won’t be any criticism, negative feedback, or rejection. If it’s perfect then presumably everyone is happy and there is nothing to worry about. In this way perfection becomes a protective factor. A way to keep from being exposed to pain or failure or the pain of failure.
What are the negative aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?
The issue with the positive aspects of perfection is that they often come at a great cost. Everyone sees the outward expressions of perfectionism, the grades, the high achievements, the beautiful photographs, the successful business but they don’t see the behind the scenes. Perfectionists often spend a significant amount of time and energy in their efforts to be perfect.
The Straight A student likely lost a significant amount of sleep studying for exams and is now exhausted and burned out which impacts their overall health. They generally don’t have an intrinsic motivation for their achievements or successes and often find themselves wondering whether this effort and work is worth it. The “successful” business owner works 80+ hours a week to ensure that everything is done perfectly, sacrificing home life, family time, and other areas of their life that are meaningful.
There is always a story behind the perfection, and I believe that at its core, perfectionism is an issue of worth. Perfectionists are constantly trying to prove that they are valuable, worthy of love and affection, and deserving of the praise that is given. They constantly question, Am I enough? Am I doing enough? Am I good enough? And if there is any aspect that says “No.” Then they must do more. But because the void can’t be filled by doing more, because perfectionism isn’t based in reality, the bar is always moving higher and higher, farther out of reach.
One thing that I’ve learned in my work with perfectionism is that there is often some kind of trauma associated with it. Generally, there is a childhood wound that has not been healed and one way to soothe the pain is to strive to be perfect. For example, a child who was abandoned emotionally and physically often turn to perfectionism to get the love and attention from a loved one. They develop the belief that “if I just do everything right, my parent will love me, come back to me, take care of me. If I’m easy, perfect, quiet, small, then my parent won’t have a reason to leave me.” As children, we are often not able to assign appropriate responsibility to other people. We internalize our external world and this develops our core beliefs. In that way, it makes complete sense to a five year old that there is something she must have done to make her parents go away and in turn, there is something that she must do to get them back. This usually results in efforts to be the perfect child. The “perfect child” then grows up to try to be the perfect student, the perfect partner, the perfect employee because the core belief is the only way for people to love me is if I’m perfect. This childhood wound continues to run the show. Yet, perfectionism is a fallacy. And striving to achieve an unrealistic, unattainable goal, ultimately results feeling like a failure. Perfectionism is exhausting, it’s draining, it leads to burn out, failure to launch, fear, anxiety, depression, and worthlessness.
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?
One of the most common reasons a perfectionist gets stuck and does not move forward is “analysis paralysis.” Perfectionists thrive in situations where they feel really confident and are engaging in things that they do all the time. However, perfectionists can really get in their head, especially when it’s about trying a new thing, and this “overthinking” can cause stagnation and an inability to just do something. Then this is often associated with critical thoughts of I’m not good at this, I can’t do it, I’m a failure, I don’t know what I’m doing which fuels the core belief of I am worthless. If they don’t have all the answers and can’t see all the ways that it is going to work out, they have a hard time making any step forward because what if something goes “wrong.” The fear of failing or looking like a failure, keeps the inactive.
If a perfectionist can’t see all the steps ahead, they may choose not to move forward at all until they can see the path clearly. The goal here is to have a plan for every situation or to know how everything is going to work out, but since this is impossible, they feel stuck. Perfectionists also experience great difficulty with just making a decision. They are so focused on making the “right” decision, the decision that does not result in failure, that they would rather make no decision at all than make the wrong decision. Perfectionists also rarely trust themselves. They spend a significant amount of time check and rechecking or having others to check their work. This can cause procrastination, hesitation, and staying stuck.
Another reason perfectionists stay stuck is a fear of being seen. They already put a significant amount of pressure on themselves, but when they also open themselves to the vulnerability of being judged or witnessed by others, they may choose not to move at all. Other people having high expectations of them causes more distress because to fail publicly would be a tragedy for a perfectionist. Making any move towards something that they are not sure they can succeed at or something that will cause the attention to be on them heightens the risk for failure which increases the likelihood that they will stay stuck.
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.
While there are lots of ways to get past perfectionism, especially depending on what the root cause is, these are my top 5 that I believe will apply to most situations.
- Show yourself compassion. Being compassionate with yourself is the most important piece of getting past perfectionism because it gives you permission to just exist. Practice forgiving yourself for anything that you believe you’ve done wrong and then showing yourself love and gratitude for everything that you’ve done right. Make a list. Sit down and make a list of everything you believe you done wrong and say I forgive myself for… Then on the other side, make a list of everything that you believe you done right and say I love myself for and I am grateful to myself for. Another option is to write a letter to yourself that specifically focuses on your struggles with perfectionism and is if you were talking to a child or a close friend, tell them all the things that they may need to hear to feel comforted, safe, and encouraged to move forward. I’ve often found that speaking to yourself with compassion (it’s okay, you can do this, you’re learning, you tried your best, you’re worth the effort) goes much further that harsh criticism. Which leads me to my next point.
- Unlearn and challenge negative scripts. Somewhere you learned that it was better to be harsh and critical when trying to achieve your goals than it is to be compassionate and kind. We often underestimate the power of our words, and we certainly underestimate the power of the words we speak to ourselves. When we have people in our lives who criticize us frequently or say hurtful things, we tend to internalize those messages and they become our own internal script. So first, it’s important to evaluate your scripts. Notice the thoughts that you are having on a daily basis. Are they often negative? Whose voice do those thoughts sound like? Are they yours or are they someone else’s? Be curious about where these scripts originated from and then do the work to unlearn the negative ones or the ones that don’t make you feel encouraged. I often use this example with my clients. Imagine you run track, you’re almost at the finish line and the people in the bleachers start yelling “You can’t do this, you can’t win, you might as well just give up now, you’re going to fail, you’re 1 second behind the person in front of you, you already lost.” How are you going to feel? Likely discouraged, unmotivated, worthless, hopeless, fearful and I imagine it would impact your ability to keep moving forward. Now, I’ve had some clients say that this motivates them to prove those people wrong, and that may be true but that is the exact thinking that breeds perfectionism and you likely will still internalize some of that language creating your own negative scripts. For people who have this response, a new script to learn is: “you don’t need to prove anyone wrong for your success to matter.” Now let’s take that same example, you’re running a race and the people in the bleachers start to yell, “you can do this, you’re so close, keep trying, you’re giving it your best, you’re only a little bit behind, you’ve got this!” I don’t know about you, but I feel way more encouraged when I hear those things. This example is related to external voices, but the reality is we talk to ourselves throughout the day way more than we hear from others. Changing what you say to yourself on a daily basis can help you overcome perfectionism and get unstuck.
- Rewrite Your Story. Building on the first two, showing yourself more compassion, using that compassion to challenge and unlearn negative scripts will help you to rewrite your story. Who is the person that you truly desire to be? When you think about your future, how does that person show up in the world. Whatever the narrative has been up to this point, you get to make a decision about what the narrative will be moving forward. One phrase that is sounds so defeated to me is “this is just who I am.” Yes, I do believe that we have certain traits and characteristics that make up who we are, but the idea that we can’t change that, that there is nothing that we can do about it, seems like we’re just giving up before we even give ourselves the chance to start. We have the capacity to transform our lives and do more than we could ever imagine if we give ourselves permission to. If your story has always been, I have to be perfect for someone to love me, you get to make a decision to change that story to, I don’t have to be perfect to receive love. I’m imperfect and still deserving of love. If your story has been, I can’t be successful because I don’t have all the answers or I don’t know what to do so I might as well not even try. You can change that story to, I am successful because I try hard, I work hard, and I will figure things out to help me in my success. If perfectionism has been your whole life and that’s all you’ve known, believing that there is a different way can feel impossible. However, there are so many people who have learned to move past perfectionism and live a full and complete life and so can you. You deserve more than the limits of perfection, and believe me there is so much more, but you have to believe that your story can be different.
- Make Failure Your Friend. One of the beliefs that drives perfection is that failure is the enemy. That to be perfect means to avoid failure at all costs. That to fail means that you, as a person, are a failure. Fearing failure or believing that you are a failure is a great hinderance to your ability to get things done. The reality is, failing is a means to an end. Failing helps you see where you need to learn and to grow. I view failure as an opportunity. A lesson to be learned. If you did everything perfectly, chances are you don’t actually have the opportunity for growth or expansion. In order to try new things, you have to fail. If everything works then you just keep doing the same thing over and over again. And while that may sound safe, there is very little in the world that stays the same. Change is the only constant. Avoiding change and avoiding failure will keep you stagnant and stuck. Embracing failure and seeking out new ways to learn and grow with the potential of failing is the best way to move forward. So shifting your mindset to having failure along for the ride can help you make strides towards success. Failure leads to growth which leads to more failure which leads to more growth. The more you fail, the more you grow. Fearing failure is saying that you are afraid to grow and this takes me right back to my favorite quote/poem, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Avoiding failure puts a cap on your capacity to take up space and step into your power.
- Heal Your Wounds. Now with all of this being said, the reality is that perfectionism can have damaging effects on mental health or the capacity to “just do it.” The ability to do any of these four things can be impaired because of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and a host of other mental health challenges. So if you’ve been trying all these things and they still don’t seem to be giving you the results you desire, it may be helpful to seek out professional support. You may have childhood, emotional wounds that require professional expertise to help you overcome. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of times, perfectionism comes from unresolved trauma and that is not always something that can be easily resolved by mindset shifts, compassion, and challenging negative thinking alone. The act of seeking professional help is also an act of challenging perfectionism. Recognizing that you need help and actually seeking it out is a way of admitting I’m not perfect and that is okay. Taking the time to invest in your healing will set you up for success and help you to get moving. For a lot of people who have experienced trauma, they experience difficulty seeing a vision for their future and especially envisioning one that is positive, successful, and thriving. Have your perfectionism sit to the side while you heal the wounds that keep you limited.
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?
My goal in life is to inspire a movement where people rest and find stillness more. We live in a society where people are always busy, always going, always moving. We want things to happen quickly so we can move on to the next thing in our schedule. We don’t create enough time or space in between our commitments to be able to slow down enough to take in the moment. So I want to inspire a movement where we find more stillness, space, and rest. One of the things that I appreciated about the pandemic was that it caused everyone to pause. We were forced to slow down and reflect even if in the smallest of ways. Priorities were challenged and shifted. We were able to find more joy in the small things. We learned to appreciate being outside more, being at home more. We learned to value the other areas of our life that weren’t just about work and busyness. Everyone and everything had to slow down in some way. It was beautiful to witness. And now as we start to live in a “post-pandemic” world, I find myself being curious about what that means for the pause. It seems like everyone wants to just go back to normal, but I wonder what it would be like for us to create something new. What if more spaciousness, and ease, and stillness, and rest is actually what we need to be more productive, more creative, and more satisfied in life. I believe that if we slowed down, we would have more time to show up for other people. To really care for them and listen to their needs, then be able to provide that for them. The only way we can be a loving neighbor is if we slow down long enough to know our neighbors and to hear what they need. The only way we can be loving to ourselves is if we slow down long enough to know ourselves and know what we need. Loving ourselves and loving others is my favorite way of bringing good into the world.
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!
My forever FLOTUS, Michelle Obama. She’s actually an example of the pressures of perfectionism that come from external sources. As a Black woman in the White House, there were these unrealistic expectations of who she was supposed to be and how she was supposed to present herself to the world. And regardless of what she did or didn’t do, there was someone who wasn’t pleased. It’s the exact conundrum of perfectionism played out right before our eyes. Yet, she handled every moment of it with grace and poise and honesty, which I truly admire and aspire to embody in the face of adversity. I think that just having the ability to be in her presence would be monumentally life changing. While I have no desire to be the president or a first lady, I believe that her wisdom gained over those eight years would provide so many gems for the success that I am working towards.
How can our readers follow you online?
They can follow me @drmarcuettasims and my practice The Worth, Wisdom, and Wellness Center @worthwisdomwellness. They can also visit www.worthwisdomwellness.com to sign up for our newsletter and learn more about what our practice offers.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!