Perfectionism and Mentoring Don’t Mix

We're all diamonds in the rough.

We’re all diamonds in the rough.

Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.  

—Salvador Dali

So true, yet how did our expectations get so out of whack?  What makes us think perfection is at all possible — in ourselves or in other people?

When you aim for perfection, you discover it’s a moving target.   

—George Fisher

You’ve seen the hidden trap of perfectionism in others.  They’ve got great ideas; yet they fail to move forward.  They’re waiting — for the perfect circumstances, the dream project, or the ideal job.  Ironically, all too often we fail to see it in ourselves as well. What are the reasons not to choose a mentor:

  • The Critic:  “I doubt if anyone would have the right experience to be a good mentor for me.  Besides, I’m working on something innovative; no one has done this before.”
  • The Procrastinator: “I’ve even talked to a few people about being my mentor.  But I’m not exactly sure what I really want to do.  I need to wait until I’m fully prepared.”
  • The Fire-fighter:  “I’m too busy already.  How could I possibly find the time.”
  • The Dreamer: “I’ve been thinking about my idea for years.  Some day I’ll start hammering out the details and find the perfect mentor.”
  • The Worrier:  “I’d like a mentor, but I’ve never had one.  I don’t know what to expect.  I don’t want to let them down.  What if it doesn’t work out?”

Are these really strong enough arguments to keep you from excelling?   Not really.

If whatever you want to do is truly important you, you will find the time.  You’ll stop dreaming and act.  You’ll acknowledge your fears and get started.  You’ll find a way. Smart people know the importance of surrounding themselves with other smart people. They seek out others who stretch them — so they can actually achieve more, be more.

But it requires vulnerability and honesty.  

Yes, it’s really tough to admit what you don’t know — especially if you think you should already know it!  And of course we feel more vulnerable tackling our emotional roadblocks: overcoming procrastination, managing our temper or timidity, accepting criticism, or being a control freak.  (Some days perhaps its not one but all of these!)  Even asking someone for support is difficult, particularly when we care very deeply about something.

Why take a risk?  Why be vulnerable?  Why ask for real, long-term support when you work in today’s hyper-critical business world — where excessively high expectations are the norm?  Because it’s your life, your dreams, and your potential that are at stake.  How else do you expect to get to where you want to go?   

Mentoring isn’t therapy, but vulnerability is essential.  Brené Brown explains the power of vulnerability well in her TED Talk.

To escape criticism — do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.  —Elbert Hubbard

So get out there. Give yourself permission to let go of perfectionism. Breathe in a giant sigh of relief!  It always feels energizing to me.  (I hate to admit it, but I need to do this mental exercise fairly often!)

Naturally there will always be roadblocks and plenty of surprises, both good and bad.   But imagine what you could achieve with a smart, caring mentor in your corner.  Start thinking about all of the new ideas, innovations, and connections you will make.  You don’t have to be perfect.  You don’t need a perfect plan to get started.  You just need to be open to learning — and to being fully committed to living up to your potential.

The imperfections of a man, his frailties, his faults, are just as important as his virtues.  You can’t separate them.  They’re wedded.   —Henry Miller

No, your mentor won’t be perfect either.  Start off right, assure them that you’re not expecting perfection from them!  You might be surprised just how much that will strengthen your mentoring relationship — and how much more you’ll learn.

So switch off your perfectionism.  Whether you’re a leader, change-agent, entrepreneur or social entrepreneur, surround yourself with smart people who care about you and where you want to go. Focus your actions on finding a mentor — or 2! Just in case one doesn’t turn out to be as perfect a match as you might want. Everyone’s human after all.

Aim for success, not perfection.  Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. — Dr. David M. Burns

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