When success does not equate to well-being.
On the outside, I am a success story: I obtained my Ph.D. with honors, published several articles in respectable journals, gave multiple talks to national and international audiences, and even got interviewed by the media about my research. What a ride!
On the inside, it is a bit more complicated: I am a recovering perfectionist. Recovering is the critical word here because letting go of my crippling perfectionism is a daily practice. While nothing can stop me on a good day, I spend most of my bad days overcoming crushing feelings of self-doubt and constant negative self-talk such as ‘I am just not good enough.’, ‘I am lazy.’, ‘Why can’t I figure this out?! I guess I’m just stupid!’ etc. This internal dialogue often leads me to procrastinate until I overdose on overthinking or fear-of-trying and curl up in bed with the hope that sleep will solve all my struggles! But the worst is that on days when I do accomplish something, I am not even proud of myself! As much as I own my failures, I always attribute my successes to anything but me (e.g., chance, co-workers, etc.).
A book to the rescue.
If this perfectionism-driven vicious circle sounds familiar, I highly recommend reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. Although published ten years ago, I recently discovered this book, and it hit very close to home! Here, Brené Brown describes the concept of wholehearted living, which relies on accepting your vulnerabilities and imperfections without questioning your worthiness. In her framework, being imperfect prompts us to practice courage, compassion, and connection, namely the gifts of imperfection, which ultimately leads us to fully experience two feelings essential to the human experience: love and belonging. Although the first three chapters might feel a bit theoretical, I recommend you push through and get to the ten practical guideposts. In each guidepost, Brené Brown takes the time:
- To review a specific behavior that gets in the way of wholehearted living (e.g., perfectionism).
- To define the counter-behavior one should cultivate (e.g., self-compassion).
- To detail how she practices the afore-mentioned counter-behavior (e.g., use the self-compassion scale developed by Dr. Nelf). Although Brené Brown’s exercises might not work for you, her real-life examples helped me realize that no step is too small. The key to change lies in starting and committing to your practice.
Altogether, The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown is a powerful tool to help you reflect on your way of living and implement meaningful changes where you see fit. Beware that this book is not a simple recipe for happiness but rather the start of a lifelong journey! Letting go of your perfectionism (or any other debilitating habit) takes work and commitment, but it is worth it!
Not a fan of books? No problem!
(1) Visit Brené Brown’s blog, which offers tons of free resources (e.g., useful printouts, quote cards, and reading guides) to help you cultivate a wholehearted life.
(2) Watch Brené Brown’s talk on Netflix, The Call to Courage, for 1h15 minutes well invested. Only have 20 minutes? Watch one of Brené Brown’s TED talks (The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame).
(3) Listen to Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast, especially the episode on Burnout and How to Complete the Stress Cycle.
(4) Practice a wholehearted lifestyle with the help of stoic., a journaling app that helps you work through daily struggles with quotes from Stoic philosophers, journaling prompts, breathing/visualization exercises, etc.