from the


from the Top of the Mind


from the
Top of the Mind

“Dr. Crawford’s presentation was the highlight of the conference and a much needed reminder for all of us (especially nurses) to keep it all balanced. Bill’s psychology background surely protruded through his messages and I know it was well-received by all!”

Nancy Perovic, RN, BSN
University Of Chicago Hospitals, Chicago, IL

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“Wherever perfectionism is driving us, fear of not measuring up and shame is riding shotgun.”

~ Adapted from Brene’ Brown

Perfectionism – The Good, Bad, and Ugly!

First, let me say how much I admire Brene’ Brown. Although we live in the same city (Houston, Tx) and even hail from the same alma mater (the University of Houston) I have never had the pleasure to meet her in person. Regardless, her TED talks, books, and presentations have always resonated very strongly with me, and I have found her willingness to bring the issues of vulnerability and shame to leaders from all walks of life to be truly inspiring. As I write this short essay, I am reading her latest book entitled, “Dare to Lead” and am choosing to focus on her thoughts on perfectionism.

This desire to be perfect in all that we do is something I run across frequently in my work as a speaker, corporate trainer, and psychologist. Either I hear leaders wanting their people to be as perfect as possible, or I hear individuals speaking to being driven by this need. And, while I can certainly appreciate the desire to be conscientious and do what we do as well as possible, I also recognize that the need to be perfect (or have others be perfect) is more of a problem than a solution.

There are at least two reasons for this: 1) we are mistake-making creatures, meaning that our making mistakes is inevitable. Therefore, to hold “perfect” as our goal will mean that we are always falling short. I always say, “Unless we plan to ascend anytime soon, we will be making mistakes. In fact, not only are mistakes inevitable, they are often the way new discoveries are made, and the way we learn to be better. In other words, they are a part of a continuous improvement process where we notice what didn’t work and use that knowledge to bring new information and purposefulness to all that we do.

The second reason, however, is more profound, and that is the degree to which shame and fear of failure is associated with our holding “perfect” as our standard for success. For those of you who follow my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy, you know that the shame of failure and fear that we are “not enough” which so often accompanies the striving for perfection comes from the lower 20% of the brain. This is the reactive brain where our stress, anxiety, frustration, self-doubt, and anger reside, and not the part of the brain that allows us to access our clarity, confidence, and creativity.

Unfortunately, many of us are raised to believe that our self-worth is tied to what we do (and how well we do it) versus who we are, which makes us overly susceptible to this lower brain reaction. As Brene’ describes so eloquently in her book, “Most perfectionists grow up being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule-following, people-pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it.”

Sadly, it is this belief that our worth lies in what we do and how well we do it that triggers the fear of what will happen if we’re not perfect or don’t live up to everyone’s expectations. I can’t tell you how many clients of mine have discovered that at the root of their insecurities lies the fear that they are not “enough” somehow.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t hold ourselves and others to a high standard of excellence. Or, to put it another way, the answer to the fear of failure isn’t embracing mediocrity. We want to do our best and support those in our organization and family in doing their best as well. We just don’t want this striving for success to be fueled by the need to be perfect, or the fear that our being less than perfect is something of which to be afraid of or ashamed.

In fact, it is our willingness to be vulnerable, admit our mistakes, and learn from them that will actually result in the success for which we are striving, because when we make a mistake, we learn something about the process. And, when this learning is celebrated and utilized by the upper 80% of the brain (the neocortex, or what I call the “Top of the Mind”) we bring the best of who we are to the process of achieving our goals.

I always call a mistake “a mis – take,” or an action that we took that missed. If our sense of self-worth is clearly rooted in the qualities and characteristics we bring to life (versus a need to be perfect), we can then take what we learned and apply it to whatever action we take next.

In fact, did you know that the original meaning of the word “sin” was an archery term? It meant to “miss the mark.” Therefore, I suggest that we look at our attempts to accomplish our goals (or hit the mark) in a way that allows us to celebrate the bullseyes and our “mistakes” (i.e., what we learned from the “miss”) as valuable information, and move forward in a way that is less about fear of failure and more representative of what we would teach or recommend to some we love.

The bottom line is that we want to choose the energy that drives us in a way that doesn’t have shame riding shotgun. We need to ensure that we have chosen those who accompany us on our journey in a way that moves us toward purposefulness, joy, and a meaningful life versus the need to be perfect.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill

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