Two Ways Perfectionism Affects Your Authority

Years ago I heard a captivating talk by Resonate author Nancy Duarte at the World Domination Summit. Duarte’s talk, delivered seamlessly and in fact, resonating deeply, was about the elements of a great speech.  Her talk modeled everything she spoke of: it had a good story arc in which the audience was the hero, and she, as guide, clearly illustrated the potential for our success as speakers. She spoke mostly of renown speakers like Martin Luther King Jr. and Steve Jobs, but she included just the right amount of personal revelation and humor.

It was kind of perfect.

When I shared my impressions with an artist friend who attended, she said, “Yeah, I’m so glad I saw her speak again. That talk has come a long, long way since I first heard it.”

What? I was dumbfounded. She gave an inferior version of that talk in public?

perfectionism-and-authority Something churned within me. I was confronted with my own perfectionism, and reminded that great works of art — talks, books, songs, sculptures, paintings, blog posts, and even workshops — are born over time, with many iterations. Nothing is perfect at the outset.

I also learned that Duarte, who came across as incredibly polished, professional, and accomplished, had gone through a long process to get there.

Her talk didn’t pop out fully cooked, yet fully cooked and as-if-Martha Stewart-herself-had-baked-it is what we expect from ourselves when undertaking new ventures. We lose sight of the work that really goes into great works, and that we are entitled to learn how to be our best self.

Perfectionism is a coping mechanism we create to deal with the potential blows of rejection and humiliation. It doesn’t matter if you had a conscious experience of humiliation that scarred you such that you never want to experience it again, or you have a vague sense that you are inadequate, and with one false move, everyone will know it. When perfectionism runs the show, the sustained isolation we feel can be worse than any passing dose of humiliation.

There are many ways perfectionism affects our ability to step into our authority. Here are two main ways:  One is when perfectionism stops you from putting yourself out there, and you live in a constant internal power struggle between your desire to express yourself and your inner critic. The other is when perfectionism drives you to put yourself out there — and then attempts to control every aspect of it. In other words, perfectionism either keeps you from stepping into your authority (as in, being the author of your life) or causes you to overstep your authority, treading into other people’s space with your expectations and demands, so the people around you feel controlled, diminished and burdened by your anxiety.

I draw a firm line against abusive behavior, but perfectionists who do put themselves out there, even if they are slightly crazy-making to work with, have an advantage: they usually have high standards; they can make their vision a reality, and make a big impact. Steve Jobs and Barbara Streisand are examples of reputable perfectionists who have had huge impact and — despite there being an alleged cost to others — raised the standards of the people around them.

Those types of perfectionists are rarely able to change their ways. However, if your perfectionism causes you to give your authority away and stops you from stepping up to the plate, you have some very exciting, game-changing work to do. You get to make a commitment to loving yourself no matter what, and then take the risks necessary to find out who you really are.

And if you need help with that, you know where to find me.

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