Taking off the Shield of Perfectionism

perfectionismDr Brené Brown (a research professor at the University of Houston who studies shame, vulnerability and fear) speaks of the shields that we wear each day, armour that we put on to protect ourselves from shame, blame, judgement and criticism but which ultimately block us from living wholehearted, authentic lives. One of the shields that she speaks of, that I have grappled with personally and see others in our profession struggle with, is perfectionism.

Brené recognises that we all lie somewhere on the perfectionism continuum but for some it can be compulsive, chronic and debilitating – a far cry from healthy striving. We see it in our students who won’t even have a go for fear that it won’t be good enough – the epitome of the adage “perfect is the enemy of done”.

In our profession we need to get things done quickly as we have so much to do. So for those of us who need everything to be perfect to feel like we are doing a good job it can be excruciating to accept that our work is “good enough”. On the whole it is not our leaders calling for perfection, it’s the critical voice within.

So how do we let go of this shield in order to truly show up for our lives? Brené says we must make the journey from “What will people think?” to “I am enough” if we want to be free. We do have a choice about how we operate but like any behaviour we want to change it’s first a matter of awareness.

Some tips from a recovering perfectionist (who is practicing the art of “good enough” in this here blog):

* Notice your reaction when you make a mistake. What is your self-talk like? How do you treat yourself? Practise treating yourself as you would another teacher in the same situation – we generally speak more kindly to others than we do to ourselves.

* Do you worry what other people will think of you? The classic example of this kind of worry for me is at the start of the year when I think ‘Will they compare me to last year’s teacher? They’re really good at…’ When I have these thoughts I remind myself of my own gifts. Repeat the mantra “I am enough” whenever you feel this kind of worry creeping in.

* Start to be honest with others that you trust when you don’t know something, when you are struggling and when you need help – us perfectionists like to go it alone but we miss out on the support of our team and the feeling of being in this together.

* Practise daily self-compassion – in your thoughts, words and actions.

* Give yourself permission to do things that are good enough. If you wait for perfection you’ll never get it done.

* Totally own your strengths as a teacher, be that curriculum knowledge, personal characteristics or the rapport you have with your students. Be proud of these and conversely accept the areas of your professional life where you have a few cracks (one of mine being desk tidiness – but I take great comfort in the memory of a sign on my Year 4 teacher ‘s desk reading: a clean desk is a sign of a sick mind….).

The weight of this armour is crippling…start to take it off, one layer at a time so that you can walk freely again and appreciate and embrace your perfectly imperfect self.

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