You don't have to be perfect
When I was younger, it wasn’t always okay to need help. Being self-sufficient was something to strive for, even at age 5. Sure, you can get help tying your shoes… for a little while. Then you need to win all those subject awards, ace your tests, and place 1st in all your speech competitions. And you better do all those things on your own, ’cause that’s what big kids do.
Even in high school, when I was unsure of how to do something, or afraid… like join student council, start a club, or sing in the musical… I didn’t ask for help. I was too scared to ask.
I learned to be perfect. I spent hours behind the scenes, crafting perfection — on my school work, only handing in assignments once I’d met all the predetermined criteria set by my teacher; on myself, only stepping out of the bathroom once my hair and makeup met my peers’ expectations.
This art of perfection continued as I entered business school. In class, you better be certain that you’re right. In your reports, your plan better be fool-proof and cover every possible situation. You better have a clear stance on what you think. You better think all of this up for yourself. And you better explain it with pretty graphs and words to impress people.
You should know where you’re going and what you’re doing.
At least that’s what I thought.
Then I started working at a startup.
I’ve realized that being unsure can be a good thing.
The belief that you must be certain about whatever you do, and that you cannot show weakness — that’s paralyzing.
It’s so much more empowering knowing that you can be uncertain and show weakness, because that’s what humans do.
Letting go of those beliefs is hard. I’ve been conditioned (probably unintentionally) to portray myself as this all-knowing, perfect person who is certain about what they’re doing in life.
I’ve slowly discovered that most people don’t know where they’re going. They project an air of certainty for their friend’s, family’s, and sanity’s sake. Publishing career updates on LinkedIn, crafting a 500-word-summary on their resume that links together the most random compilation of jobs into anI know what I’m doing, I always knew kinda story.
And it’s appealing to be certain. It’s comforting, and like Tony Robbins says, all people need some level of certainty (it’s one of those basic human needs). Without steadiness, life verges on feeling purposeless and overwhelming.
Being okay with uncertainty is key to overcoming perfectionism
So, how can we be okay with uncertainty if it’s so scary? That’s something I’m exploring.
The first step seems to be listening to yourself. It’s such a hard thing to do. When I’m unsure of what to do, I feel compelled to ask people what they expect of me, what I should do next — I feel scared to do the same to myself.
“It takes courage to do what you want. Other people have a lot of plans for you. Nobody wants you to do what you want to do. They want you to go on their trip, but you can do what you want.” — Joseph Campbell
The next step is creating that certainty for yourself through routines, rituals, habits. Even the smallest actions, like making your bed in the morning, can create that craved-for stability in an otherwise chaotic life.
The last step I’ve found is surrounding yourself with supportive people, a community you fit into. It’s like your safety net that will catch you, listen to you, understand you when your roller coaster takes you upside down unexpectedly.
It doesn’t happen overnight, don’t expect it to. It’s taken me 6 months to get to this point, and I expect I’ll be working much longer than that to become friends with this feeling. But it’s so worth all the hard work.