One of the best gifts you can give yourself for Christmas, and as you move into 2020, is to own your imperfections. We all have them, most of us try to hide or compensate for them – the truly grounded and successful simply own them.
Putting your game face on, trying not to get found out, working to fit in is exhausting isn’t it? Even worse, it creates a sense of lack, undermines your confidence and plays right into the whole ‘not good enough’ script you probably run at least some of the time.
At the end of the day, showing up, being yourself and resisting the need to be liked is a risky business – it’s neurologically counterintuitive, uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. We are taught from a very early age to conform, to fit in and serve others and from an evolutionary perspective, that is reasonably sound advice if you want to survive. It is rubbish advice if you want to thrive.
For most humans thriving is a combination of belonging, significance and contribution; and while it may appear similar, this is very different to fitting in, conforming and serving.
When you truly belong there’s no front, you don’t have to put on an act, you can just be yourself. The evolutionary need to belong probably stems back to our hunter-gatherer days where we were quite literally safer in a group. Neurologically you have not evolved very much – your subconscious brain spends much of its time processing social interactions, checking out where you are safe and valued. It’s no coincidence that those with strong social relationships – and I’m talking about depth not volume here, fare better when it comes to stress, anxiety and mental well-being. Lack of real belonging is a curse of the digital world, it is so easy to compare yourself with another’s perfect life or business, forgetting you only see the bits they want you to see, the behind the scenes it is unlikely to be so perfect. Even when you know this, looking at other ‘perfect lives’ might make you feel vulnerable and either conform in order to fit it and gain a short lived sense of safety, or withdraw and suffer increased isolation.
When you feel significant there is no need to prove yourself, to shout to be heard, a need to be noticed – instead there is a sense of recognition and validation, your fundamental desire to be seen, heard and listened to by those who matter to you is met. I believe you need this in your work life just as much as with family and friends. From a social processing perspective this is the true basis of connection, this sense that you matter is a powerful enabler when it comes to risk and vulnerability. When you matter there is usually someone in your corner or someone depending on you – your actions have consequences beyond yourself, this is a great motivator. When you don’t feel significance like no one will notice – or care, or hold you to account, it’s really easy to sit back and cruise, to play safe or to make excuses.
The need to make a contribution is about purpose, connection with something bigger than yourself, it’s about making a difference and leaving a legacy – some mark that you walked on this earth. Now I’m not saying everyone wants to change the world, but I do believe each of us wants to impact on the things that matter to us. I also believe we all make a difference to someone or something. When it comes to contribution you have to be connected. Whether it is a small act of kindness or a global initiative, it is the intention behind the act that gives you the sense of contribution, of connectedness. You can’t be truly connected, or make the difference you are here to make, if you are hiding behind a mask hoping your imperfections won’t get found out. At best you will water down your actions to fit with what you know you can succeed at, at worse you will undermine yourself, your confidence and your perceived significance.
Imperfection makes you vulnerable, there’s no getting around that, it feels horrible, you can experience a whole raft of things from self-criticism, to embarrassment to deep shame. You can also use this vulnerability to connect with your fellow humans who, however perfect they may seem to you, are probably just as vulnerable, just as imperfect as you are, as I am, as we all are.
We don’t like vulnerability, our own or in those around us, often we try to fix it when really we simply need to hold it, be in it and be true to who we are. There are so many layers to peel back neurologically, so this is very oversimplified: vulnerability shows authenticity, a willingness to share yourself, your imperfections – this fosters trust which in turn enables deeper connection. Putting up a mask, hiding your imperfections, creates an incongruence which sooner or later is noticeable – this destroys trust and connection.
Exploring your imperfections does two things – it identifies your uniqueness, those things about you that make you who you are – whether that’s a physical feature, a way of processing or your way of showing up. Exploring your imperfections also identifies habitual behaviour which may be holding you back in your quest for significance and contribution. You might call them reasons or circumstances but the chances are they are patterns, stories or excuses you have created to protect yourself (and your perceived imperfections).
I believe it is these, your made up imperfections, that create the real problem when it comes to owning your imperfections. Why would you own something that is not really part of who you truly are? In owning your imperfections, I’m challenging you to first weedle out the excuses and do something about the ones that get in the way of your greatness.
Secondly, for the love of humanity – drop the mask, own your differences, and be authentic enough to stand in your own imperfect glory.
We are all work in progress, if you want share your success and challenges do join me in the braver business group.