Is Being a Perfectionist holding you back?
What’s the meaning of perfectionism really?
refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.
As far as I know perfection doesn’t exist because it’s subjective. This of course means that if we are after perfection, then we are already setting ourselves up for failure.
Now here’s the deal. The people we work with are often pretty highly self aware people. Even still they (and me too, many times) don’t recognize when we’re having moments of perfectionism that are holding us back.
Why High Performers (And Millenials) Are More likely to be Perfectionists
High achievers can be so susceptible because we think we’re just being conscientious. We’ve also probably been rewarded for that conscientiousness. Not just in our career but probably way back from the time we were children and we’re used to “winning” or “succeeding”.
When you’re used to always succeeding the prospect of trying something new, that understandably you might not be that good at because you’re a beginner, is really uncomfortable for us.
Also the fear of failure prevents us from taking any of those steps so instead we stay stuck because we don’t want to get out of that bubble.
Conscientiousness differs from perfection when we’re tying our self-worth to outcomes so it’s not just about winning or losing it’s about “I am a winner” or “I am a loser” and further, because we self identify as high achievers we need to keep this cycle of achievement going so that we can stay a winner.
How perfectionism shows up in career change
The single biggest way that we see perfectionism in people who want to change careers is many people come to us with the belief that there is a single correct occupation (and path to that occupation) out there that is the “right” one.
While it’s much more “romantic” to adopt the belief that the love of your life career is out there waiting for you somewhere and you just need to undergo the journey to find it, that’s not actually how it works at all. Not even close.
That thought process (I must find the “right” one) holds us back from taking real steps toward finding work that does actually fit, because if we don’t see a pathway then most often we won’t take steps forward.
The crazy thing is that making a career change for work, that allows you to be happy and well paid, is a bit like driving through the fog. You can only see so far ahead and as you move each mile down the road you realize that you have to make turns that you didn’t know were going to be there and couldn’t see ahead of time.
Ok, I admit it. I have perfectionist tendencies. What can I do about it?
We’ve put together six strategies, mentalities, approaches, tricks and mental hacks to make working through perfectionism much more doable (still not easy, but possible) and more functional… like when I traded my Infiniti coupe in for a mini-van.
Bring awareness… SO YOU CAN PUNCH PERFECTION IN THE FACE
Here’s the thing: Perfectionism is unreasonable. No really, it’s impossible and illogical and you never really realize that in the moment. Instead you think “wow I really want to make a good impression for this job, I should create a portfolio”. Then I’m 5 hours into creating the portfolio and I think “wow I can’t send this out looking like this, but I’m out of time” so you don’t send it and… surprise! No result!
It’s situations like that where many of us don’t realize that perfectionism is taking over. I probably really didn’t need a full portfolio with 30+ projects to still make a great impression. Plus that feeling that it’s not good enough (you know that feeling) causes you to doubt that sending it is the right decision in the first place.
The only problem is a lot of times with perfectionism there’s an ideal that you’ve created behind it and the surest way to start unpacking it is to start asking yourself questions about why are the stakes so high and “why do I think that there’s only one way to do it?” And with ideals, a lot of times, it’s because we compare ourselves to other people and the way that they’ve done it.
One of the ways we see that commonly show up is people will come to me and say well my boss is grooming me to take over her role. And I would love to do this role but she has X years of experience or she has this expertise and I don’t have that.
You’ve created this ideal of the ONLY way to do this role. If you can’t live up to that then you can’t do that.
Instead you have to first bring awareness to the perfectionism so that you can shatter it, or knock it off it’s pedastal or punch it in the face. Whatever you do it has to be drastic otherwise you won’t escape it’s clutches.
In the boss example: “What would you bring to the role that’s different?” Because everything you do is unique and special and that might actually be the thing that turns the organization on its head in a good way.
There’s not only one way to do it!
Wabi Sabi is a Japanese philosophy which values imperfection, impermanence, and incompleteness. There is a particular tea ceremony used as a ritual part of wabi sabi where they use handmade bowls. These bowls aren’t like what most people would envision. Most of us wouldn’t recognize them to be valuable. They have cracks, and imperfections and are old and somewhat assymetrical.
That’s exactly why they’re valuable. All of those imperfections are reminders that that is what is truly valuable and makes a difference in life.
This is true of your career too and especially the journey of making a career change that fits you. It’s imperfect. You take 2 steps forward and have a learning that you could only get by taking those steps forward, but then it means that you must adjust your course or direction.
Eric Murphy did this many times as he thought he was well suited for one industry, but in taking steps to pursue that industry learned that it didn’t align with what he wanted at all. He could have viewed it as having to start over, but the reality is that’s how it works. Career Change is imperfect and without the cracks and imperfections, you don’t get to where you want to go. It’s messier than what all of us perfectionists would like… and that’s actually ok and even valuable.
STAIR STEPS NOT TRAMPOLINES
High achievers tend to want to find that trampoline and bounce straight off that trampoline to the end with perfect results. With that technique you might fall into something more quickly. It’s not necessarily going to be the best fit for you.
Nearly all of us (myself included) have the human tendency to look for the path that allows us to just walk right to the goal or destination that we want.
The contrasting reality is that if we want to run a marathon then we don’t just get up one day and pump out 26.2 miles if you’ve never run more than from the couch to the refrigerator in between Netflix episodes.
It’s a gradual process, much like climbing a set of stairs. Every step that you take literally puts you in a different position to make the next one easier to get to.
We look at stair steps not as right or wrong, or good or bad, but an opportunity to get closer to what you want. And we really make a mistake when we try to jump straight to the end without doing some of the work into those interim steps.
Caroline Adams a career coach on our team said it best.
“All you need to worry about is the next step I think that’s another way that people kind of shut themselves down is because they can’t see that ultimate outcome. They just stop taking steps. And anyone who’s been through this process or maybe even those that are in the middle understand the value of those steps.”
Guess I’m right back where I started from. I have to start over from scratch. Not at all. Thank goodness you’ve now got this valuable information, whereas had you not gotten that information and gotten into that job or industry you probably wouldn’t be that happy. And so look at it from the perspective of well, now I’ve taken another step closer to the job that’s going to be a better fit. It might take a little bit longer but I’m going to be much happier. And when you think about it in terms of time, let’s say you catapult yourself or bounce yourself from the trampoline sooner into a job you hate. Well you can’t really cut down on that time because now you’ve got to start the process over again. Whereas if you would have just kept taking steps and incrementally moved closer towards your goal we actually find that that shortens the time to the career that’s right for people, so you’re not starting over. You just need to keep moving and just pivot every now and then.
Reframe not retreat
We make the stakes so darn high when we care about doing something!!! Whether it’s because of these ideals or because it’s something we really really want, it causes us not to get started. And so we start retreating before we’ve even taken any of the stair steps we mentioned above. So the idea is to reframe your next action and look at it as an experiment or as an opportunity to get some feedback for yourself.
For example, if you’re looking at your career change from the perspective of I must find a great job for me (and soon) then you’re unlikely to have much success, But if you reframe and view it as an opportunity to do research and find out more about the thing you’re interested in and find out about the person sitting across from you then you can much easier (and more quickly) move up those stair steps we talked about.
It’s not all about you!!!
No, I’m sorry, it’s not all about you. we all have struggles. Maybe you had an interview and it didn’t go as you had totally planned it in your head or maybe you’re struggling to really figure out what it is that you want for your career. Often we get confused with those steps that we’re taking on the journey or what happens along the journey. We make those steps mean something about who we are.
We especially do this when we percieve something isn’t going according to plan. Perfectionism kicks in and because we’re “off plan” that must mean I’m not doing it right or I’m not good enough or I’m too old or I’m too young or I’m not smart enough….
Where this starts to really go wrong is when people start to second guess what they want. This means it’s really important to separate the things that happen on the journey from the person that’s taking that journey.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT POSSIBLE
One of the biggest things that never seems to occur to people is that moving past perfectionism is actually a skill in itself. Much like other skills if you don’t continuously practice it, it doesn’t get any easier.
This of course means putting yourself intentionally in uncomfortable situations where you can recognize those perfectionistic feelings and actually lean in to them and do the action anyways.
Making this intentional discomfort a part of your life allows you to get better (really quickly) at making it possible to not get caught up unconciously in the perfectionism spiral.
The two keys here are it must be intentional that you’re putting yourself in this situation AND it must make you uncomfortable.
Read more about Career Wabi-sabi here: https://carolineadamscoaching.com/blog/millennial-women-perfectionism-kills-career-wabi-sabi
Transcript from Episode
Scott Barlow: I’m Scott Anthony Barlow and this is the show where we share stories of how high achievers find career happiness and meaning. We have a very special guest today as it turns out and she’s a business owner a writer and a coach with our very own HTYC. She actually began her career accidentally with a management consulting internship handed off by her brother and very much along the way she ignored a bunch of glaring indicators that she was meant to follow a different path. But she still continued to claw her way up the corporate ladder but made some pretty cool career pivots along the way. Eventually became a CEO and then got completely exhausted. And while she was recovering from inevitable burnout she committed to rebuilding her life and her career on her own terms and now through HTYC and other parts of the world she gets to help other people take back their own lives much the same way that she has done and designing their lives and careers with purpose. I am so very excited to welcome back to the show Caroline Adams.
Caroline Adams: Hey Scott. Very excited to be here, once again.
Scott Barlow: We only have so many repeat guests. As it turns out so I’m really excited to have you back as a repeat and to bring you back for round two. And by the way if you want to learn even more about Caroline’s story go back and listen to episode 223. So go to happentoyourcareer.com/223 and you’ll get right to Caroline’s entire episode and learn about all those pivots that she made along the way. And we’ve had so much good feedback about that episode by the way. I’ve gotten e-mails we had people leaving reviews. You’re hearing about it. So that’s that’s a good sign.
Caroline Adams: Glad that my career could bring others hopefully some career and joy and ease the path for it. Now it was really fun and I’m glad to see that it’s resonating with people
Scott Barlow: That’s kind of the way it works. That is what we do around here we take all the things that were painful for us and we turn them into something that hopefully be less painful for many other people out there. We get to actually talk about one of those painful items today in particular that sometimes people don’t even know they’re experiencing. This is a really interesting topic you and I were getting to chat about this in an earlier conversation as we were prepping for this but also this is a place where a lot of people struggle. I’m talking about the area of perfectionism. It’s really interesting even though that we’ve had many questions about perfectionism and you’ve worked with people in our Career Change Bootcamp program and many other people too. And it comes up a lot. That what you’ve experienced as well? I know I’ve seen it a huge amount.
Caroline Adams: Yes it comes up all the time. And it’s interesting you get into some examples today that I think well it is sometimes so insidious about it is that people don’t recognize it as such. A lot of people don’t identify self identify as perfectionist. So we’ll talk today not only about how to recognize some of the ways that it shows up or even share some examples about where we think we’ve beaten this perfectionism thing and it shows up again. So we’ll talk through some tools. But I think it’s a really interesting phenomenon and just a tidbit from my own personal experience probably in the last six months the two times I’ve felt the most anxious are number one when I was writing a blog post about perfectionism and number two when I was preparing for this podcast on perfectionism so I share that because even just you know thinking about the things that lead to perfectionism and my own experiences with it it’s just such a powerful force and that’s what we want to do today is just really shed some light on it and help people work through it in their career change.
Scott Barlow: Yeah absolutely. And part of the reason that we got onto this topic for this purpose as well was because we had a listener that had sent in an email saying hey I haven’t heard anything about this on the podcast. Can you talk about it on the podcast? I need some answers. I must have some answers. What’s really interesting just what you said about we don’t always recognize where perfectionism is coming into play. Then this person said the exact same thing. Well tell you what. Let me just read part of her question here. She said over the last several months I’ve been trained in this, by the way as is Lauren, Lauren sent a note that said over the last several months have been trying to move from the analysis paralysis and planning mode into Action Jackson as she calls it using some of the techniques HTYC recommends about connecting with people or people who can help you or hire you. So she goes on to say that she’s developed top 10 list of companies organizations people she admires in different areas and she has sent out a bunch of different emails and in some cases had some initially very positive results. But then she goes on to say hey I had a shameful confession and I think it’s shameful but we’ll get to that in just a minute. I tend to drop the ball after the initial outreach. It’s like the anxiety overtakes me and I want to craft the perfect reply or create some really amazing project to be able to share with them and I end up actually doing nothing and it’s happened as many as three or four times in recent months. And I think this is a problem that everybody struggles with to different degrees. So we look at it and say OK let’s figure out how do we get some answers to that question for people that are in that exact same place. That’s what we hope to do. That is our entire plan. So tell me your initial thoughts on perfectionism.
Caroline Adams: Let’s start with my definition which is striving for an unattainable ideal and then beating yourself up for not reaching said unattainable ideal. It’s an impossible situation that we set ourselves up for and then punish ourselves for not achieving. And this has really been top of mind for me recently because not too long ago there was a paper published in Psychological Bulletin that was focused on millennials. And it was talking about the fact that Millennials are more prone to perfectionism than previous generations. And then it links that rise in perfectionism to a rise in serious mental health consequences. And so we’re not talking about mental health today we’re talking about career change. But the reason I mention it is to point out that this is really pervasive and it is taking over and not to get too far into the weeds of the paper but one of the things they talk about is not just the perfectionism that we place on ourselves personally, internally focused perfectionism but the rise of social media and other ways that we are very visible and other people are actually holding us to the same ideals whether real or perceived. So it’s a really important topic to talk about.
Scott Barlow: I think it’s fascinating just some of the changes in our environment today have impacted something like perfectionism and all of the things that can happen when we are not cognizant of it and fall into that trap on an ongoing basis. So this is intended to be a proactive approach to that. Bad things will happen if you don’t do something about it. Not to scare people or anything else along those lines. But we want to say OK we know that we do something about it now. So here’s what I’m curious about though. We work a lot with high performers and high achievers and other people that have a track record of success in one area of their life or another might not always be their career sometimes its other areas too – health, financial, et cetera. But those people often are some of the same people that have the highest degrees of perfectionism going on sometimes. Sometimes they recognize it many other times they they don’t. So where. Where does this actually show up and why do you think high achievers in particular high performers and in particular are so susceptible to this?
Caroline Adams: I’m glad you asked the question. It’s such a fascinating space for me to think about. So the reason I think that high achievers can be so susceptible is that oftentimes we think we’re just being conscientious and we’ve probably been rewarded for that conscientiousness as you said. Maybe not just in our career but probably way back from the time we were children and we’re used to quote unquote winning or quote unquote succeeding. And so when you’re in this environment the prospect of trying something new that understandably you might not be that good at because you’re a beginner, it’s just really uncomfortable for us and at worst the fear of failure prevents us from even taking those steps and really that’s what we want to prevent is that people stay stuck because they don’t want to get out of that bubble and where I think conscientiousness differs from perfection is that with perfection we’re tying our self-worth to outcomes so it’s not just about winning or losing it’s about I am a winner or I am a loser and further because we self identify as high achievers we need to keep this cycle of achievement going so that we can stay a winner. And so it just becomes this vicious cycle of wow I really hope I perform and there’s only one right answer. And what is going to say about me if I don’t get it right so is a lot of pressure that we put on ourselves to do this.
Caroline Adams: We see this come up a lot of different ways. One area that we see this coming up with people that we first interact with them whether they’re listeners or people new to CCB is they come to us and they say I have the ideal already I have the quote unquote perfect job. You know I got I have a good paycheck. I’ve been getting promoted. I’m recognized for my talents. But I don’t want it. I’m not happy. And no one understands why I’m not happy. And so they start to question what they really want and start to think that they’re crazy and so a lot of times our initial engagements are when they’re figuring out their signature strengths or their ideal career profile we’ll go through it they’ll realize that no they are the best positioned people to know what they want and they just need that validation that they’re not crazy because you know when it’s something that deviates from the status quo. So I think that’s very salient example for people of where they get caught up it’s kind of a meta version of perfectionism not only thinking that there’s one right way to do things but especially when they’re being told that they already have the perfect thing. Why would you rock the boat? Why would you want something different?
Scott Barlow: Well this compounds too. So you become used to being able to achieve and you become used to winning or succeeding which then makes it more difficult in some ways to if you can’t see what the pathway is want to go down that pathway and embark on that particular journey that particular side journey.
If I don’t know where it’s going to end up because I’m used to winning I’m used to that type of feedback I’m used to being in that position so I don’t and it feels good right so I don’t want to go down that that other pathway. And then on top of it they’re being told that they’re crazy or at least they perceive that they’re being told they’re crazy from a you know family or friends or other people looking in. And they’re trying to intentionally or unintentionally maintain some of those those perceptions too. But that’s in conflict with what they really want. So this starts to stack on one another in some areas. So how else does it show up in career change. Is there any other ways that we see this this happen?
Caroline Adams: Yes so I think a lot of times it’s focused on a particular outcome so this ideal outcome I describe it as there’s a single correct path surrounded by an ocean of hot lava. So everywhere around me there is danger in destruction and everyone’s on the sidelines you know on the volcano I guess watching you and judging you and you fear you know just the wrong step. You’re in the hot lava and so it’s when you’re in that scenario it’s impossible to take action. But here’s the problem with that when you don’t take action in that metaphor you’re still in an ocean of hot lava.
Now you’re not taking steps to get yourself out of it you’re not learning you’re not growing you’re not being vulnerable and we all know that it’s in those circumstances where we’re most uncomfortable and we’re most challenged that we learn about what it is that’s important to us and what it is that we want in life, and so it’s really important to not only lean in,which we’ll talk about to some of those uncomfortable experiences, but for the multiple paths so there’s not just one path there’s not just one ideal outcome.
Scott Barlow: What about the helicopter airlift in from a hot lava. So that sounds like a really bad trip to you to Maui gone very very wrong and that’s really interesting though because that that creates a very compelling visual for what does really happen in reality and maybe we’re not thinking it’s our job all the time but it is there are those people that are like hey you already got a good situation why would you do anything different or you know it’s those people that are in your job that you’re looking at going I actually really don’t want my boss’s job and I don’t know what it is that I do want. So I kind of feel stuck in all other kinds of situations where it manifests itself. I know you and I started talking about this earlier but I am curious how you see this show up differently in terms of we started before we hit the record button. Having a conversation about how this looks differently and how this sounds differently and even men versus women and realise that hey there’s actually some distinctions here too and how this shows up so I’m curious your opinion on that since we didn’t even get to have the full conversation earlier.
Caroline Adams: Yes so what I will start with is by saying that I have this conversation about perfectionism in variations with women all the time. A lot of times directly but I often see the patterns show up so we get onto it indirectly. We talk about things like people pleasing that comes up a lot with women. I rarely discuss it and call it perfectionism with men and so one of the things I’d actually like to hear from you. I feel like you’re uniquely positioned to talk about men and their experience with perfectionism and a different perspective. I think I’m interested how it shows up with them. But I think with women a lot of times they will either talk about it as conscientiousness right. And so they’ll frame it that way they’ll talk about it in terms of people pleasing they will talk about in terms of permission seeking. And I think a lot of times that’s where doing the right thing or what family wants them to do so those sorts of things start to come up a lot in my conversations. Tell me about with your conversations and particularly your conversation with Men.
Scott Barlow: Yeah I absolutely hear a lot of the same vocalizations as what you just said when I’m speaking with women and we’re going to overgeneralize her a little bit because this doesn’t hold true 100 percent of the time but in general I find that women are more aware of it than what I see men to be. And I’ll speak as a man a lot of times we are less aware of it. And I would say even identify less with the word perfectionism as a whole.
I would also say too that the other thing I observe is as men where it where shows up and we don’t realize sometimes where it shows up and I feel like I need to always have the answer. I feel like I need to have the solution. I feel like I need to be able to provide that and if I don’t in some ways feels wrong or inept or another word is escaping me right now. But that’s the way in which perfection shows up. But I don’t know that if we weren’t talking about it I don’t know that I would call that perfectionism even though it is.
Caroline Adams: And I’m so glad that we have this conversation. I think there are a lot of the people men and women regardless how they identify that think they’ve actually conquered it or you know I’m done with that whole perfectionism thing that’s just beyond me or they don’t recognize it as perfectionism as such so hopefully when we start talking about these examples people will start to identify and Jackie was just weighing in on some of the ways when I was mentioning permission seeking and people pleasing and certainly those sorts of things come up and so maybe some of those terms are more familiar to people and that’s a form of perfectionism because again it’s about there’s this one ideal that is the right way and that’s the only way to do these things. So thank you Jackie for sharing that.
Scott Barlow: Yeah yeah. Absolutely. OK. So you mentioned these examples and you mentioned that there’s actually ways to do something about this. So I’d love to talk about those specifically and in fact we’ve identified six different ways that you can begin applying now. Like not yesterday but pretty close yesterday. As soon as possible because really just like you talked about with the hot lava the enemy of perfectionism or the way to move through it is to be able to gain motion gain momentum which means you have to miraculously or unmiraculously move through all of the head games that really is causing that set of perfectionism. So let’s talk about some examples of where this comes up and how we can handle those particular places where we do get caught up. What is example number one and what is way number one that you can handle here?
Caroline Adams: Yes so example number one we like to call bring awareness to your ideals so you can punch them in the face. And that sounds very violent. Maybe we’re a little too punchy as we were coming up with these. But the idea behind it is that again a lot of times with perfectionism there’s an ideal that you’ve created behind it and the surest way to start unpacking is to start asking yourself questions about why are the stakes so high and why do I think that there’s only one way to do it. And with ideals a lot of times it’s because there’s a particularly salient example of what we think something should look like when you know someone who’s out there who’s successful how they’re doing it or how we think we need to act. One of the ways we see that is commonly show up which you alluded to a little bit before or is people will come to me and say well my boss is grooming me to take over her role. And I would love to do this role she has X years of experience or she has this expertise and I don’t have that. And so that’s an example of you’ve created this ideal of well this is the only way to do this role. And if you can’t live up to that then you can’t do that. And so the idea that I want people to start embracing as well, What would you bring to it and especially if you bring something different because everything you do is unique and special that might actually be the thing that turns the organization on its head in a good way. So don’t think about it through that lens and really start asking yourself questions about why you think that there’s only one way to do it. Or like I said the stakes are so high.
Scott Barlow: First of all I was there and thought about it this way before but I was thinking about our title and what we call us. And as I think about perfectionism in the areas that stopped me it really almost is like this big bad bully in some way that is really stopping me from getting to where I want to go. I’m on the playground. I want to go down the slide and this person is telling me who’s much much bigger than me by the way that I can’t go down the slide and there’s nothing that is going to move this person out of the way this bully out of the way unless you do something that is drastic. Otherwise you don’t get to go down the slide and I really think that it does require doing something drastic in some way to be able to take it and look at it for what it really is. Otherwise we hold it so high. Like oh my goodness there’s this person is not going to let me and that and all these excuses pop up and everything like that and we don’t recognize when we’re in that moment that they are excuses. So to be able to bring that awareness you do you do kind of have to punch it in the face a bit. And I love your concept of taking the ideal and bringing it down to size that fits for me. And if you don’t recognize it for what it is there’s really nothing that you can do about it to.
Caroline Adams: Yeah knock it off that pedestal smash whatever metaphor works for you whether it’s the bully not letting you go down the slide or probably not punching it in the face but smashing that ideal and really holding yourself to your own standard rather than a made up standard that someone else has set for you just by the nature that they were there first.
Scott Barlow: Yeah. Yeah absolutely. What’s the next one here. This is one of my favorites.
Caroline Adams: I have to say this is my favorite so I call this career wabi sabi. Wabi Sabi is a Japanese philosophy. It values imperfection, impermanence and incompleteness and it will not be able to do it justice in the short time we have today so I encourage you to read more about it because it is really a beautiful philosophy that has all sorts of applications beyond your career. I actually first came to it through design world but the idea here applied to your career is to celebrate those goofy quirky unique things about yourself and your experience and to make them cornerstones of your career. Oftentimes we want to sweep those things under the rug. We want to downplay them really what we should be doing is not should be doing but I think there’s an opportunity there to use those things to our advantage because they really set us apart in a beautiful way. So the idea is that your career experiences good and bad make you more interesting and thus more valuable. So whether it’s quirks whether it’s you know that path that you took that now you’re kind of pivoting and taking in a different direction. It’s using those to your advantage. To bring it home,there’s someone I’m working with now she wants who’s thinking of pursuing a career as a COO. And we were talking about how to position that and she started talking about her degree in accounting in her early years that she was in that space and she was saying now how do I downplay this. You know I would never mention this because they don’t want people to take me out of the running. And what we arrived at is no. Absolutely. Use that experience and use those strengths and the things that you like about accounting the things that make you good at accounting, apply those to how you would run and that COO role because those are unique and special and they will set you apart and be able to bring those things to a COO role. And the fact that you have that background actually brings a unique lens to that experience.
And so I think a lot of times people will look at seemingly disparate things in their career as disconnected s o they want to sweep them under the rug or downplay them and really encourage people to bring them forward and not just with experiences but also with those quirks. Like I said even those quote unquote bad experiences because that’s where we learn and grow. And so just to give another metaphor we seem to be coming up with a lot of once lot of metaphors. There is an art form called Kintsugi and that’s oftentimes closely related to wabi sabi. And the idea is that you repair pottery and you fill the cracks with holes and other precious metals. So the idea is that not only are you bringing this broken thing back to whole but now the cracks are the most beautiful thing about the pot. And actually when I was doing some recent research on Wikipedia when this first came out people were so intrigued by the idea they were purposely smashing pottery so they could come in, and so I’m not saying go out and purposely break your career I’m not advocating that. But the idea is if you think about this as applied to your career really shifts how you think about it and looking at those experiences that were maybe kind of painful. Definitely probably learning experiences and the things that your initial instinct would be to downplay well how can you flip them in a way that they become the gold they become the thing that showcases you to make you different and set you apart and embrace those imperfections rather than trying to pass over them very quickly
Scott Barlow: That’s super interesting. I have heard. What did you call that again. Say it one more times.
Caroline Adams: I hope I’m pronouncing it correctly. Kintsugi
Scott Barlow: It sounds good to me I have no idea. We can talk about that here in just a second too but that is really interesting as I think about my own experiences too. That’s actually how I got to starting this company in the first place. The whole reason all of the set of events that led to me you know getting promotions and even setting on the quest to figure out like how do I find work that I love that pays well for myself. And how do I do all these things was because I got fired which was incredibly painful at the time. It really was. But now I found that had that not happened, it would not have said all these other things emotions. But really now more so than anything else it’s an asset rather than something to be ashamed of. And you don’t have one without the other. And one makes the other much more attractive and honestly just more interesting too. We all think we have to have perfection but nobody really actually likes it and
Caroline Adams: It is boring. What makes the better story to tell your friends when you’re out. It’s not like I rose to prominence and it was easy. The end. It was really horribly stupid thing. And that’s my whole kind of writing repertoire is sharing stories about really cringeworthy and you know dumb things that I’ve done along the way because it’s interesting and you grow from it.
Scott Barlow: And we all have them too. Yes the surest way to make your friends despise you is be with them and talk about how everything is perfect and no problems. OK so what’s the next one here.
Caroline Adams: Yes. We call this one stair steps not trampolines and we see this one all the time with high achievers. High achievers tend to want to find that trampoline and bounce straight off that trampoline to the end, perfect results. With that technique you might fall into something literally fall into something more quickly. It’s not necessarily going to be the best fit for you. So what we try to encourage is this idea of stair steps and thinking about those steps not as right or wrong good or bad but an opportunity to get closer to what you want. And we really make a mistake when we try to jump straight to the end without doing some of the work into those interim steps. And all you need to worry about is the next step I think that’s another way that people kind of shut themselves down is because they can’t see that ultimate outcome. They just stop taking steps. And anyone who’s been through this process or maybe even those that are in the middle understand the value of those steps. Even if you don’t know where they’re leading and one example where we see this come up is. So let’s say someone has decided as they define their ideal career program or profile that they want to work in a particular industry or work for a particular organization and then somehow throughout the process they realize maybe this isn’t the best fit. It’s not what I wanted after all. So sometimes people say oh back to square one.
Guess I’m right back where I started from. I have to start over from scratch. Not at all. Exactly. Thank goodness you’ve now got this valuable information whereas had you not gotten that information and gotten into that job or industry you probably won’t be that happy. And so look at it from the perspective of well now I’ve taken another step closer to the job that’s going to be a better fit. it might take a little bit longer but I’m going to be much happier. And when you think about it in terms of time actually so let’s say you catapult yourself or bounce yourself like from the trampoline sooner into a job you hate. Well you can’t really cut down on that time because now you’ve got to start the process over again. Whereas if you would have just kept taking steps and incrementally moved closer towards your goal we actually find that that shortens the time to the career that’s right for people, so you’re not starting over. You just need to keep moving and just pivot every now.
Scott Barlow: Yeah it makes me think of Eric Murphy’s story which if you go back and listen to episode 128 way back into the archives he came to us very much wanting one of the things he told me back then was Scott I mean I’m pretty sure that solar technology is where I want to be. I’m like 80 percent sure that that is where I should be going. So this wasn’t our first rodeo. And I realized like OK that’s fantastic let’s do this upfront work and if that still indicates that that’s the direction should be heading. Awesome but let’s also test it out at the same time. And he went through in the experience that exact same thing that you just described. He went through and realized oh crap this is I want to be like this is actually the opposite of where I want to be and it’s pretty unlikely that in this particular industry I’m really going to find what I want and what I need to have more happiness more often in my career. And after that he really kind of had two options at that point. He could have looked at that as oh bother I guess I’m back at square one but instead really what that did is it allowed him, doing that work allowed him to be able to move to the next step and created the path forward because had he not done that he’d still be looking for that trampoline as to how to get there and if he got there he probably would, he’s a pretty loyal guy who probably would’ve spent two years in the company that role and then started over again and been extra frustrated ya know got right.
Caroline Adams: Yeah that’s what happens people have that oh crap realization but usually after they’re already in the job and now have to feel compelled. This is a whole other podcast , but you’ll stay there for a significant period of time for various reasons. So I was actually thinking of Eric as I was as thinking about that.
Scott Barlow: What’s our next one then.
Caroline Adams: The next one we call reframe not retreat. So the idea here as we’ve laid out is that a lot of times we just make the stakes so darn high whether it’s because of these ideals or because it’s something really really wants but we don’t even get started. And so we start retreating before we’ve even taken those steps that we were talking about. So the idea is to reframe your next action and use what works best for you. But some ways are look at it as an experiment. Look at it as an opportunity to get some feedback for yourself. Look at it as an opportunity to do research and find out more about the thing you’re interested in and find out about the person sitting across from you and what their big pain points are and where this tends to show up for people and shows that a lot of places but one one common place is that as people start to reach out to build relationships usually one of two things happens either because a lot of times when they’re reaching out for these relationships it’s someone they don’t know so they’re so unsure of where the conversation is going to go. Again focused on that outcome like where am I going with this that they stop and so they hesitate even having the conversation. Or they fast forward to the end result they think it’s going to happen which is this person’s going to offer me a job which I know I don’t like. And it’s not going to make me happy and goes on and on and on.
So the idea is to lower the stakes so whatever the step is whether it’s having a conversation whether it’s working to figure out what your ideal career profile is or your strengths you know find a way in that lowers the stakes and dare I say make it fun. We make this stuff so not fun and so unpleasant for ourselves. And so the idea is you know just making it finding a way in that works for you. That just makes it about the thing and not where this is going to go and really lowering your expectations even about where it’s going to go so you can just get started and not retreat.
Scott Barlow: That’s an interesting one. I actually struggle with that one a lot of times as well to the point where Alyssa my wife knows this and I will get so focused on a particular goal or particular deadline or accomplishment or something else along those lines. And I actually enjoy the vast majority of what I get to do but sometimes I’ll get very achievement focused and forget to make it fun along the way. So she very consistently has been my reminder like she’ll kind of stop me at the door before I walk into the office or whatever and be like Hey have fun. But I really have to like build that play. If we are not intentional or if she’s not there actively reminding that and if that is not a continuous reminder in my life then I forget. And then I go back to some of those forms of perfectionism that we talked about.
Caroline Adams: Yeah I think that’s so important. Actually to spend a minute there is that we forget that this is something that we want we forget that taking those steps to get to that dream career. We want that, we are choosing to do this. And so how can we reconnect with that idea whether it’s fun or learning or growth. Again however you want to frame it. I think it’s important to remember like this is taking us to somewhere good that we want to go.
Scott Barlow: I can’t remember who said it but it’s certainly escaping me and I’m going to going to butcher it a little bit but it resonated so much with me that feel like it’s worthwhile to tell it here. But somewhere along the way over the last couple of years I read something about the author was making it a point to acknowledge that look life is a series of moments all strung together so if you’re after a particular thing like when you get to that thing it’s like one moment it is just it is one moment and then there’s everything else in between. So if you’re going after everything you’re doing is just for that one moment that means like ninety nine point nine percent of your life is not going to be particularly fun or not particularly enjoyable or not particularly valuable to you because you’re entirely focused on those itsy bitsy pieces. So yeah I don’t know. We hear enjoy the journey all the time and things like that. But it’s difficult. And I think that the perspective that you mentioned earlier is a much better approach than just telling people hey enjoy the journey. That’s like showing people the water while they are drowning a little bit.
Caroline Adams: I think that’s true. Yeah. It’s easy to say when you’ve already reached the destination. Grateful I can say to someone else enjoy the journey. But when you’re in it. I had a former boss that used to say that all the time. And at that time in my career I would hear the words but I just could not. What are you talking about. Enjoy the journey and this journey is utter and sheer torture. But I think what you need is a great one which is can we just that with. We didn’t want to go on enjoying the journey but in that idea. Once you get to that dream job or that hope that outcome whatever it is it doesn’t mean that you’re done. The idea especially if you make yourself miserable on the way to get there but there’s just going to be another destination after that and another destination after that. So the idea of just building towards something and improving with each step or each move as you go forward I think is a much more manageable way to think about it or enhancing each move that you make .
Scott Barlow: I absolutely love that. What is our next example and next opportunity to work with perfectionism rather than against it.
Caroline Adams: Yeah so the next one is not all about you. no it’s not all about you. And the idea behind this one is we all have struggles. Right. So maybe you’re having an interview and didn’t go as you had totally planned it in your head. Or maybe you’re struggling to really figure out what it is that you want those things say nothing about who you are. It’s just the thing. And I think oftentimes we get confused with those steps that we’re taking on the journey or what happens along the journey. We confuse them and make them mean something about who we are. And mostly it’s not good. Mostly it’s like I’m not good enough or I’m too old or I’m too young or I’m not smart enough you know. And so where I think this starts to really go wrong is when people start to second guess what they want. Right. And so it’s really important to separate the things that happen on the journey from the person that’s taking that journey. I know we just said we weren’t going to talk about the journey. Those those bad things are separate from yourself and so stopped short of second guessing whether you are cut out for this or whether this is the right thing. If this is what you want it’s absolutely the right thing and you have all the tools and skills that you need to get there.
Scott Barlow: This is an interesting one as you and I were talking about this concept earlier. We were sharing stories actually back and forth and it seems like this one is partially about how you want to be perceived and that idea of that type of perfectionism and making sure that you are perceived well influencing how you feel about something which ends up in a many cases stopping you from ever pursuing something in the first place or you might start and then you have that difference in how I want to be perceived versus how you thought you were perceived and then that stops you from continuing and actually great really recent example of this for me and I feel since we ran a self development company helping people with their careers their lives I feel very very obligated. This is my belt and stakes to some degree to keep me keep me going but I feel very obligated and I want to continue to practice this and we’ll talk a little bit about that part of it too but it seems like this piece is relevant too. I thought that on our recent podcast just just came out not that long ago. Number 224 where we recorded live from South by Southwest. That’s the first time I’ve ever recorded a podcast live at an event or a festival or anything else like that. It was horrifically uncomfortable for me even though I’ve spoken many times publicly and all that other stuff. It was a different experience and when I look back I actually thought it was and thought it was really really bad. The interview I thought was really really bad. That’s how it felt on stage because I wanted it to be at a certain level and I was holding that level of perfectionism. And then when I went listened backwards it’s like oh actually it was pretty good. It was it was not bad at all by any means and in fact the areas where I thought I did well I probably could have improved much more. So it creates that disparity too which causes you to not move forward.
Caroline Adams: Yeah I think I think that’s a great example and that comes up with people a lot with creativity. Another parallel I see there and in my own experience when I’m putting something out there when I’m writing a blog post and something that I’m really really excited about I think it’s the most clever idea ever, crickets I hear nothing back. I can put something out there that I just feel like it’s so dry and boring. And that’s where I get the most feedback like oh my goodness you’re in my head. How did you channel my thinking. So I think both of those examples in your podcast experience and you know with my creative writing experience you can just see how our minds work against us. And with that thought especially when I think your example illustrated really I was going to say perfectly is it really this idea that when we’re comfortable and we’re in that bubble, we’ve achieved a certain amount of success and you this is what we do and I’m known for my podcast and you know I’ve gotten a lot of accolades and positive feedback on my podcasts. And then I want to uphold that ideal. I want to do really well in the same space.
And you worked through it beautifully because you went out there and did that and were happily surprised. And I think the other important piece of that is being uncomfortable and your willingness to be in that uncomfortable spot you could have totally stayed in that safe place of I’m going to be in a studio. I’m going to make sure that I know exactly what happens.
Scott Barlow: It is very controlled. I get to control exactly what’s going on when I’m when I’m in my own studio and with my own equipment and everything else like that.
Caroline Adams: Exactly. And you put yourself into this environment where anything could have happened. Right because it was not only live but it was in this totally new environment with new people and you know much different scenario and I think that’s a great lesson for people because oftentimes we’re trying to avoid pain. And when I’ve even given a lot of examples about how to make things less painful right sometimes It’s about leaning into that pain and finding a way to say alright I’m just going to accept this because I know something beautiful and wonderful is going to come out of it which doesn’t mean you’re going to enjoy it. You know it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be a comfortable experience but the end result is something that’s totally going to propel you forward.
Scott Barlow: And now I mean with a couple of those examples like with the podcast example. Now I’ve done it and it’s truly not as big a deal as I probably made it out to be in my mind. Oh here’s a here’s a funny story before we roll right into the next piece. So when I got the invite for that from the company who was putting on the event Express well I thought for half a second going through my mind for half a second about like oh my goodness that’s get be really comfortable. I started like working on excuses for why I couldn’t do it unintentionally. Didn’t actually recognize it for a few minutes until I walked into the other room and I was talking to my son and was telling him I just got this just got this email kind of a cool opportunity and he’s like dad, So are you going to do it. I’m like well yeah thinking about it and he’s like well why wouldn’t you do it. It sounds like great opportunity, my son’s 9 if you like just turned 9 everything like that. And that’s actually what snapped me back to reality on this and kind of you know punched him in the face for me. Now where was my 9 year old saying Well dad obviously you have to do it like it’s super cool. You’ve got to do that. It was like oh yeah. Yeah. Yes yes.
Caroline Adams: I love that. You just came up with the seventh. We haven’t talked about a seventh but another tool is or your actual child because it’s from the mouth of babes. To say Well why wouldn’t you do this. And I think because we’ve been through real life for a certain number of years where we talk ourselves out of things whereas our 9 year old why wouldn’t you do that.
Scott Barlow: Why wouldn’t you do this as a reminder question. So we started talking about one of these here which was number six and our conversation set us right up to roll into Number Six.
Caroline Adams: So you probably detected a theme here with all of these. Which is it’s about showing up and doing the work. And the real momentum that you gain with the creation of a habit so standing on the sidelines because you fear imperfection will net you nothing. So this is about going out and doing that thing because doing the thing is going to make you better. That’s where we get practice makes possible. There’s no way you’re going to get your dream job if you don’t try. And I like to say better to go for imperfect action rather than perfect stagnation and to illustrate this I was actually talking to a CCB student the other day and we’re talking about establishing one of the things we do in CCB which I think is really great has really helped people get on a schedule to go through the coursework. And so he was comparing it to his recent experience with going back to the gym and he’s actually lost a ton of weight and gotten in great shape. And so he was talking about that snowball of good decisions . The decision snowball that builds when you set your intention to do something like just going to the gym every day or just working on your career every day. So to use the gym analogy like you start going to bed earlier because you have to get up to go to the gym in the morning or you forego that extra slice of pizza because you know you’re just going to have to work that much harder to burn off all those calories. Why would you get harder on yourself so it just all of these decisions start to snow ball if you will and it just kicks off this whole cascade of decisions that set you up for success even beyond going to the gym or doing the thing that you originally set out to do. Practice makes possible. So that’s the key there. And if I can share a little bit a little story actually since we’re sharing we have been sharing already so please you. Yes. Let me let me share a story that actually it wasn’t that comfortable so I think it’s a pretty good fit here to share with folks the idea that we’re we’re trying to illustrate. So last summer in researching topics for my own podcast that I will do at some point I promise I set out to interview 15 women and I ended up interviewing more than 40 women but it didn’t start there. So in those firs you know it started with one conversation and then two and then three. And in those first few conversations I was so uncomfortable I had a lot of anxiety before the conversations in the conversations like you know I had my script of questions and I was just really trying to get through those interviews.
I probably wasn’t listening as well as I could have listened to what they were actually saying if they didn’t answer my questions I didn’t you know circle back and you know follow up on those questions. I didn’t get deep. I was just getting through it. But as the conversations went on as I talked to more and more people I practiced I got better. I got out of my own head. I started listening better and tailoring the conversations to actually what they were saying. And so some some really cool things ended up coming out of that. So first of all I got a lot better at interviewing. And so that might be a helpful skill if you want to do a podcast. Another thing that came out of it which was totally unexpected was now I know 40 amazing women and some of those women have become clients actually. One woman I’m about to connect with a current student in CCB for them to talk about their various career paths. It’s super cool right. And it’s just the gift that keeps on giving but these these 40 women and I did not know most of them and even the ones that I was kind of connected to it was a very weak tie. So which is very similar to what a lot of CCB students have to do in the beginning as they start to experiment and test out their theories of you know where they think they want to work.
And so it’s just this amazing experience and I think it speaks to the value of all these amazing opportunities that appear just by the simple fact that I got out there I got started and I did the work and it was definitely not smooth. It was definitely not comfortable. All the conversations didn’t go the way I wanted to go or even close but it totally exceeded my expectations. And I actually part of it I should say is anyone who has accomplished something they really don’t want to do. Right. There’s a real rush that you get from just doing the thing like if you think of running a marathon. Right. You know maybe some people are going for a certain time. For me I would just want to finish I would just want to get across the finish line. By any means necessary even if I had to crawl. And so I think with whatever it is that you’re going for in your career whatever that thing is that feels uncomfortable or is going to make you stretch. Just by the simple process of actually doing the work it’s going to feel amazing because you’ve overcome that hurdle in your own life regardless of how it turns out. So I think that’s another added benefit. And so just to tie it all up. A lot of stories we hear from CCB this happens all the time so people will reach out to someone that they don’t know just to gather information just to do their research and either on their first contact or somewhere along the line the person will say hey we actually have this job posting. It’s not even up on the boards yet. I immediately thought of you knowing what I know of your background and this sort of thing happens all the time.
And the point is that you can’t be open to that opportunity and you can’t be in front of that opportunity when it comes if you don’t start if you don’t put yourself in the situation to reach out to that person in the first place. So practice makes possible.
Scott Barlow: It’s really interesting in terms of listening to those couple of stories here. Because it really is about changing your threshold. every one of those hard decisions or hard actions allows you to get to a different place and practicing putting yourself in those hard situations or uncomfortable situations like you making those phone calls and having those conversations and everything that went along with it. Now next time you think about that it is less difficult. Yeah there is less of a challenge because you went through and you intentionally practice that. My wife and I just had a conversation this morning this last year actually, we always set goals we sit down on. Typically it’s on the we’ll do a little bit of goal planning in November the previous year and then we’ll set down to finalize goals on January 1 and that’s something we’ve done the last few years and we didn’t hit one of our financial goals this year. And as we were talking about it we realized you know really if we trace it back like a few things underneath the surface it really had to do with us not not continuously getting outside of our comfort zone in that particular area and we realized that hey guess what we’re probably not going to hit it this year if we don’t intentionally practice getting outside our comfort zone in that area because generally our goals and the things that we want to accomplish have something to do with something that we’ve never done before which means that we’re going to have to go through a period of discomfort and if we’re not doing that intentionally and make it easier to go through that period of discomfort whatever that is because it’s a skill set in itself to practice just that thing right then it probably isn’t going to be possible. So let’s really all of these have a couple of things in common. Everything that we’ve talked about so far have a couple of things in common here. So let’s pull it together here because it really seems like every single one of these is about enabling you to take those actions enabling you to get more motion.
Scott Barlow: I remember way back when we had Richie Norton on who’s the author of The Power of Starting Something Stupid. It’s been a while ago but he always stuck out in my mind he said you know magic happens with motion and it really does. Nothing happens without motion. Nothing happens without taking a fairly big steps even if those big steps are broken up into a really teeny tiny ones along the way like we talked about. So I definitely see that running through the middle. What else would you say is the main theme for all of these here?
Caroline Adams: Well yeah I think taking steps and I’m so glad you worked magic in there because I feel like we should mention magic in every single podcast possible. But yeah certainly taking steps I think as you were sharing that story about you and your wife. You mentioned the word intention. And so I think intention is really important because you have to decide at some point you have to decide whether it’s taking a step whether it is agreeing that it’s uncomfortable but you’re going to go through it anyway. I think that’s another important component. I think those are the two. I’m just looking back through them and then I think it’s what are you making at mane. And so not making the thing more than just the thing. I think that’s the biggest thing and we shared some examples before about how our brains just really work against us. And family our friends. I don’t know about your brain but my brain sure sometimes it feels like it’s working against me.
Scott Barlow: Oh mine is worse, like I think my brain does not do that. So I don’t even see when it happens at all. And I’m I’m convinced that the oh I’ve I’ve beaten it. I have absolutely beaten it.
Caroline Adams: Beaten perfectionism or ?
Scott Barlow: Whatever it is at the time it doesn’t even matter. A lot of times I totally don’t even see the perfectionism at all.
Caroline Adams: But you know I think as coaches and probably people actually this does have a connection I think sometimes when I’m working with folks who have done a lot on their personal development journey. So they’ve read all the books they meditate, whatever they sing Kumbaya. They’ve really done a lot of work already on understanding themselves. You know when will come across topics like this they’ll say yeah yeah yeah I know that already. And I think we as coaches and anyone who is in that space where they’ve done a lot of the work I think we can fall into that trap. You know I don’t need to work on this anymore. And as we know that’s a huge pitfall because of course we all need to work on ourselves all the time. So I think that’s interesting what you just said there.
Scott Barlow: It’s not like riding a bike as it turns out there is practicing just stop working on it. Then it goes away too or it becomes more difficult. So yeah I really appreciate that synopsis. And thank you for making the time again. This is number two again I know I said earlier but go back if you haven’t already listen to Caroline’s story in her career change story in episode 223, we’ve done 200 plus episodes now over five years. Happentoyourcareer.com/223. And you’ll be able to hear all about the changes that she made along the way and even some of the elements of perfectionism and everything there too that she’s had to overcome and continue to work with to our point that we just made a little bit earlier. So thank you so much for making the time and taking the time. Appreciate it.
Caroline Adams: Thanks for having me Scott. It was an absolute pleasure. Look forward to the next episode.