Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

Failure and success are thought of as opposites, one being clearly good the other clearly bad. A more helpful way to view them might be as byproducts of each other. Here’s another way to put it:  The most important component of success is failure.

Like most business leaders, I want to be viewed through the lens of success instead of failure, even though many would agree that permission to fail can lead to success. But, in the business world and elsewhere, there is a stigma attached to failing, that if you fail, it is not something you do, it is who you are.

Marketing strategist Dorie Clark wrote about embracing failure for the Harvard Business Review, not merely accepting it, but leveraging it, using it as a tool for greater success. She re-framed the concept of failure as a necessary and ongoing process, rather than a single event beyond redemption.

It goes against instinct for most of us to embrace failure, so leaders need to be among the first to set that example with authenticity and honesty. If I’m honest about my failures, I make the environment around me a safer place to be, and allow and enable those I influence to be honest about their failures.

Then, success and innovation can truly happen. The innovation economy we live in depends on the freedom to make mistakes. Because a competitive edge is short-lived in this environment, risk-taking and failure, far from the exception, needs to be the rule.

I’m not focused so much on failure itself, but rather being honest about its role in my journey.  For example, I was recently ran into a client issue in the office and became emotionally frustrated, saying a few things to one of my staff I shouldn’t have. I calmed down, visited my motivations and dealt with my reaction by being honest with myself and with the several people who overhead the discussion.  The process was not fun but absolutely necessary to cultivating an environment that encourages honest conversations and builds relationships instead of tearing them down.

I’ve noticed that most of my failings are those of communication. It’s so easy to be misunderstood, to say something you don’t mean, or to overreact because of our emotional habits and baggage. Some amount of tension and disagreement is good in business, but there are productive ways to communicate through conflict and destructive ways.

As a recovering “perfectionist,” I find my biggest challenge remains being authentic and honest about who I am, and admitting when I have stumbled. If we can all do that, we can embrace failure as a part of our life’s journey.

John Christianson
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