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

Take the International Women’s Day Mentor Pledge

If you really want to help women have an equal voice in the world, mentor one. Be willing to become one woman’s biggest fan, her strongest advocate and active sponsor.  Invest your valuable knowledge to help her truly succeed.   So today, in honor of International Women’s Day, personally pledge to mentor at least one woman this year.

Are you willing to be a supportive catalyst, and mentor a woman this year?


Yes, women have made significant advances in the past 50 years, but there is so much more women could do.  Because at all levels of leadership – boardroom, school board, court house, state house – women remain underrepresented, and in some cases, absent altogether. Only when women are equally represented in all leadership roles with men, will our local communities and global economy maximize potential.

Why mentor a woman?  When you mentor a woman, you could vastly increase her potential to succeed.  Relationships make the difference.  Authentic mentoring goes much deeper than networking, trouble–shooting, or an occasional lunch.  It’s a relationship built on trust, which makes it possible to provide relevant insights.   Mentoring is more than merely access to someone’s contacts; it is person-to-person involvement  and investment in another person’s life.

A good mentor is a smart friend, one who is committed to helping a woman learn faster, take risks, and avoid mistakes — someone who is willing to share their experience, insights, and passion.  Just take what you already know and accelerate her growth. It’s that simple.

Whatever you’ve learned — from your success and failures or managing your career and personal life — someone out there can benefit from your know-how.  Be a catalyst for a woman to advance her career, take on a leadership role, run for office, or lead a better life.  Help her work through a business plan or career options, help navigate office politics, shore up technical skills, role model a balanced work/personal life, and much more.

Wondering who to mentor?  The opportunities are endless, so choose something you care about:

  • If you’re a change agent, mentor a change agent.
  • If you’re an entrepreneur, mentor a start up.
  • If you’re an intrapreneur, find another in your company.
  • If you’re an accountant, mentor an accountant.
  • If you’re a consultant, mentor a new freelancer.
  • If you’re in political office, mentor a woman who wants to enter politics.
  • If you’ve survived a merger, mentor someone who’s in the middle of one.
  • If you’ve changed careers, mentor someone who’s considering doing the same thing.

(Need more proof that women need mentors to make real progress? Check out the links below.)

And let’s totally bust the myth that “women don’t help women!”  I know I’ve been mentoring women since I started my career more than 30 years ago.  Some women help other women, some don’t.  (And some men support women, some don’t.) Whether you have a sister, daughter, wife/partner, cousin, co-worker, or friend, you’re likely to know a woman who could benefit from having a mentor.

Looking for a woman to mentor?  Find one at MentorPlanet.com.  You’ll also find tips to start your mentoring relationship.

Still need inspiration to take the “Mentor a Woman Pledge”?  Check out the leaders and activists from around the globe at the 3rd annual Women in the World Summit  — from Hillary Clinton to Angelina Jolie.  

So today, take the International Women’s Day Mentor Pledge to mentor a woman in 2012 — and become her biggest fan, her source of support and courage.   Imagine how different our world would be if everyone decided to mentor just one woman in 2012.  Working together, we can create a tipping point to build momentum for women’s voices and leadership to reach equal representation.  Be a mentor and support women who are on the move, making a difference around the world.

Links:

On average, a Minnesota woman is shortchanged $11,000 annually or $1 million over the course of her professional career; women with advanced degrees (doctors, lawyers), it’s twice as much (a $2 million loss). Poverty, homelessness, and a lack of affordable quality childcare remain problems that disproportionately affect Minnesota’s female-headed households, women of color, and older women.

McKinsey Research: Changing companies’ minds about women The percentage of women on boards and senior-executive teams remains stuck at around 15 percent in many countries, and just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Women account for roughly 53 % of entry-level professional employees in the largest US industrial corporations, but only 37 % of middle-management positions, 28 percent of vice-president and senior-managerial roles, and 14 percent of seats on executive committees.  And nearly four times as many men as women at large companies make the jump from the executive committee to CEO.

The World Needs Female Entrepreneurs Now More Than Ever


Is it crazy to consider a career shift in this economy?

Is now the right time? When would it be a good time? Certainly there are valid reasons not to change. The economy is tough and if you’re earning a decent living it is easy to rationalize staying where you are.  All too often we put this decision off.  We wait for the perfect time or for the perfect opportunity to come to us.

Interestingly enough, many of us are living in limbo. We aren’t fully committed to our current career or to figuring out what might be a better option.  Isn’t life too short to linger in a career that isn’t a good fit anymore?  Why wait — until you’re too locked into your current situation to change, you can’t stand your work situation any longer, or you’ve actually lost your job — before you actively consider a career shift? Exploring options while you’re in your back-up mode — worrying about finances or feeling like you’re living in limbo — isn’t an ideal environment to be open to new possibilities or actively take a risk.  (It can work, but the stress can be stifling.)

Time is life’s real currency. Are you living your life’s currency wisely?

Why not invest in yourself now? Doesn’t it make more sense to do it while you have the energy to thoughtfully evaluate your possibilities?

Time is life’s real currency.  The heart of the question is: Are you living your life’s currency wisely? Many of us start our careers optimistically, without much analysis of our choice.  Out in the real world, we gradually figure out that it was nothing like we had imagined.  Few of us did more than rudimentary skills testing.  Perhaps only a fraction of us found a mentor to help us provide real-world insights to see if we were making a good choice.  Maybe you loved your job for years; only now it has lost the excitement or the meaning it once held.  Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to be quite successful, too well, in fact, so that you don’t even consider what might make you happier — your “best self.”  Let’s hope we don’t sell out for golden handcuffs, especially if the salary isn’t all that great to begin with (or even if it is), because it’s our lives we’re talking about here!

Why not raise the bar? Consider a career change to find one that is more interesting, rewarding, and meaningful — perhaps one that is “more livable” too.  Naturally all careers have trade-offs, but the trouble is that we don’t often take the time to find a better match for ourselves.  We stay where we started just because it seems easier.  On reflection, and once we’ve made the shift, we wonder why we waited so long!  (Some of you may find that this process helps you determine that you’re in the right career; all you needed was a little rejuvenation!)

Take the time to imagine what your life would be like if only you could make a shift. According to Civic Ventures, more than 8 million Americans between 44 and 77 are embarking on new careers. We’ve all heard stories, but somehow we can’t see ourselves — our options.  So stimulate your thinking with a few real life examples:

  • An intellectual property consultant switched to his love of the ocean and now sells sailboats.
  • A banker opted out of corporate life; he prefers to work on his own, remodeling houses.
  • A computer programmer went back to school for a degree in nonprofit management; and now works in energy conservation.
  • A beautician went back to school to become a massage therapist.
  • A stockbroker now teaches fitness and relaxation.
  • A photographer’s representative switched to planning travel for touring musicians.
  • A public relations consultant who loves language, is now a teacher (teaching English to French students).
  • A copywriter went back to school to become an acupuncturist.
  • A dancer/actress became a marketing consultant (also farms part-time).
  • A marketing strategist became a stay-at-home dad, web entrepreneur, and real estate investor.

Don’t start exploring career options with the job market.  Start by asking the more important question: “What do I really want?” Career experts often recommend evaluating the future growth in a particular field, researching potential employers, estimating income and advancement options, etc.  That’s vitally important, but that’s actually the easy part — and it shouldn’t be where you start.

External analysis should come AFTER your internal analysis, which is often more challenging. You know yourself better than you did right after college or your first job. All too often, we know what we don’t want rather than what we want.  Knowing what we don’t want helps us cross options off the list, which is good. Getting us out of our routine and into the more exciting, dynamic world of our passions, possibilities, and motivations is what’s key.  Of course, money matters.  But it’s not solely about the money.  As Henry David Thoreau said, “Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.”

According to Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis, you’re more likely to be successful when you find a strong convergence between these two factors:

  • a career that taps into your values (meaning), interests, and abilities and
  • a vibrant field with plenty of job options and upward mobility — and one valued by society.

Start exploring career options by expanding your network. One of the biggest barriers is your existing network. Colleagues know you only in your current role — which is a very narrow view of your potential. Schedule informational interviews with people outside of your current circle — people who are open to seeing you in new roles.

The good news is that it is fairly easy to network these days. Even though everyone is busy, most people want to expand their network too.  Make a commitment to yourself to meet at least one new person each week — with the precise intent of helping to identify what you value, your deepest passion, and your strongest interests. Meet in person, over coffee or lunch, so you can truly to get to know one another in a meaningful way. Be sure to help them expand their network too.

Remember to document what you learn from each interview. Keeping track of your efforts will help you feel like you’re making progress.  It’s likely to take time to piece together all the components of a successful career move. Unless you’ve been training as a concert pianist since the 2nd grade, and built up 10,000 hours of practice, chances are you’ll be in the research phase for a while.  If you’re typically used to making quick decisions, try to enjoy the process and allow yourself time to dig past the first good idea.  For people that love thinking about options, find someone that will help keep you on track so you don’t get lost in the options — a colleague, a coach, or mentor.

It’s important to remember that your career isn’t limited by your direct experience. Sure, many employers are looking for someone with a perfect fit.  But more and more, smart business people know that skills can be taught.  What matters more is a person’s ability to learning and adapt.  As the senior editor at Inc Magazine, Norm Brodsky says, companies should “hire for attitude not skills.”