Putting fear aside to do big things.
Have you ever found yourself just a little too obsessed with delivering perfection? Me, too. Early on in my career, I had a reputation for driving my high-performing teams more than just a little crazy by being absolutely fixated on the most minute elements. I thought that “the devil was in the details” and therefore attached every ounce of my success to mastering the minutiae.
Turns out, I was actually holding myself back—big time.
What I didn’t know at the time—and then found out the hard way—was that my signature perfectionism wasn’t a badge of honor at all; it was fear. Fear that my team would fail and then we would all suffer. Fear that my ideas weren’t good enough and/or would be judged. Fear that if I didn’t deliver irreproachable perfection…then I would fail.
Funny thing about fear, it completely paralyzes our ability to innovate or try new things. That good ol’ primal lizard brain is the ultimate gatekeeper, making certain that we stay stuck in what has worked before, for that means safety. Nothing new ever happens when the way we’ve always done it is the only option. Thus, our ability to do big things only comes when we are not in fear.
Once I realized that fear was only a chemical reaction in my brain, doing everything in its power to keep me safe, I understood that the brain doing its thing isn’t anything I could control. I could, however, control my reaction to it.
So, I simply stopped listening to it. I began to recognize that when I was frozen in fear, I was only holding on to the past—and that wasn’t doing anyone any favors.
When I finally saw my perfectionism as fear, manifested, I did something about it.
I knew when I saw it in myself and I knew when I saw it in my team. I learned how to get through to the root of it, fear and perfectionism, by asking: “what is the worst case scenario?” and “so what?” if that actually happens. More often than not, the “what if” wasn’t so scary once it was named.
Learn to be someone who can be OK with the worst-case scenario and something wonderful will happen: you’ll stop doing things the way they’ve always been done and start doing incredible work, inspiring your team to do the same.
By recognizing it for what it is, you can say goodbye to black-and-white thinking such as, there is a “right way” and a “wrong way” and this is the right way and the only right way. Set fear aside, and get ready for greatness!
Now, go activate that prefrontal cortex and innovate, learn, and ideate. You deserve it.
Yours in recovering perfectionism and fear-wrangling,
PS I talk about my journey past perfectionism and what to do about it when it happens to you on my new podcast “Let’s Fix Leadership.” Protips, best practices, and even a handy-little-self-coaching worksheet you can use to inspire yourself and an awesome team. Listen in, and if you please, leave a review. It really helps in the podcasting world.