“What’s your biggest weakness?”
“Perfectionism.” I told him with a bright smile. You know the one. You’ve probably fired it up when you got asked that question in a job interview too. It’s the sly smile that says “oh yeah, I’m totally ‘flawed’. I’ll triple check that colour-coded-minute-by-minute spreadsheet because I just can’t help being such a perfectionist and you’ll love it because that means I get shit done!!”
Society teaches us to be proud of our perfectionism. Especially as young girls, we’re taught to be perfect, be quiet, and never let ‘em see you sweat. We smile indulgently at our perfectionist friends and secretly get a rush from how detail-oriented we are. We love it when someone admires our perfectly organized (and ‘oh sooo busy’) day planner, or tells us they had a phenomenal time at the event that we had been planning for over 18 months. While we bask in this adulation, we never stop to think that we might be living with a silent killer, as surely as if we were setting up camp downstream from a toxic chemical plant.
Perfectionism damn near killed me. And because friends don’t let friends carry on doing dangerous shit, I’m here to tell you how I became a reformed perfectionist, in the hope that you’ll quit the habit too.
“Good enough” was never enough
Before I was a life and death coach, I was Tammy the perfectionist event planner. Tammy who never dropped the ball. I whipped the most complex events into shape, because there would be no lack of signage, no food going cold, painfully long lines for the bar, or no-show entertainment on my watch. I loved showing what I was made of at big-ticket charity gala’s or VIP-5-day multiple-city jetsetting tours. No problem, I loved the challenge, in fact, I thrived on it. It was my time to shine and prove how capable I was. I wore the hustling and hard work as a badge of honour – after all, working my ass off showed my team I cared and had a Herculean work ethic, right?
And it’s a good job FitBits weren’t a thing back then, because mine would have exploded. I once circled the backstage of the Bell Centre in Montréal 3 times without realizing it because I got such a rush running around with my respect demanding clipboard and sassy headset!
So, all was well in the world of event planning (if you don’t count the fact that I’m sobbing into my pillow on the rare nights I actually put my head on it long enough for a decent sleep.) At least, until the doctor says the words that no-one, especially a childhood cancer survivor, wants to hear: Pre-cancerous cells. Well, shit.
It was time for an honest assessment of my life
Insert action montage of me taking a long hard look at my life. Up at 3am thinking WTF am I doing wrong? I’ve got a great job on paper, I’m happy enough. Why can no-one explain why these cells are showing up?? Stress is the only thing you can think of ?! But everyone has job stress, does this make me a wimp? Do I need to ask for help? But that will show I can’t do it all, that I’m not as great at my job as I think I am, damnit, do I need to swallow down this massive lump in my throat and actually ask for help?!
So, I swallowed my pride and talked to my boss. With a squeaky voice I told her I wasn’t able to continue working at the rate I was going and I (gulp) needed help. And what did I find? It was no problem at all. Now I could sleep at night like a normal person. All of which left me thinking why the hell didn’t I do this sooner?!
I couldn’t see it yet, but it wasn’t just my disturbed sleep patterns and fatigued adrenal glands that were suffering in the high-pressure environment I’d made for myself. Deep down I had patterns that kept me from being open with other people. Relationships sent me running for the next boat ride outta there because being truly vulnerable with another human being was a big ol’ NO from me.
I thought I was happy, but really I was just getting a bunch of shit done, collapsing exhausted, and calling it an achievement.
And it was killing me.
Then I discovered Brené Brown’s Daring Way™ training. Guided by her process, I started digging realllllly deep to root out the source of my perfectionism. Turns out, shame is the charger to perfectionism’s relentlessly ringing smartphone. It powers it, keeps it going. I imagine shame like the Gremlins in the movie, jumping in at every possible wrong moment and wreaking havoc. And I was feeding mine after midnight with my own stories about how I had to work impossibly long hours to prove myself, and watering them with the deep feelings of shame I hadn’t even realised I had.
I knew I had to figure out where I’d picked up the shame gremlins so I could send ‘em back. What do you know? I’d been carrying the heavy little buggers around since friggin’ GRADE ONE.
It all started with a dinosaur slide.
I can still remember it so vividly that I can practically taste the excitement. I was standing alone on the edge of the playground skeleton-thin and wearing a peach Holly Hobby headscarf thanks to the chemo that made my hair fall out. It was daunting, sure, but all my attention was on my prize – the dinosaur slide. All through my first morning back at school since my diagnosis, I’d been looking forward to reuniting with my favourite playground piece and scrambling up the dark green brontosaurus tail then sailing, triumphantly, through his mouth.
That was until I heard the taunts drifting across the cracked hopscotch paint to reach my ears. “Hahaha, look at the bald eagle!” the two older boys yelled. Bewildered, I closed my eyes tight, tears starting, and by the time I opened them again my older brother had swooped in like a protective father bird and screamed at those boys to leave me alone. “C’mon” he said, grabbing my hand “let’s go to the slide.”
If you can imagine the heart eyes emoji come to life – that was me, at the moment I realised how much I adored my protective older brother.
For years it was one of my favourite family stories
A tale of how my childhood illness had made our little family even more tight-knit. A story of solidarity.
It has been one of my favourite stories for years. And yet, here I was again, hearing the word cancer and secretly freaking out. Was I seriously going to have to battle this again?
I knew the pre-cancerous cells were my body’s way of telling a story I didn’t want to hear. But that story cried out to be witnessed, and so I took a deep breath and took a long, hard look at what I really needed in my life. As a childhood cancer survivor, the medical system had saved my life, so of course I headed there for answers … but they didn’t have any for me.
Wait, what? Surely the specialists could tell me what was going on and what I had to do?
And so I found myself doing the one thing I’d been avoiding for years and quietly burying under manic work days and colour coded spreadsheets – the harder work of looking within for answers.
Enter The Daring Way™
Around about the same time, Brené Brown was totally blowing up. I stumbled across her TED talk and immediately watched it five times in a row, shouting “That’s it! That’s me!” This woman was dropping some major truth bombs and I knew I had to take a closer look at her work.
I fell in love with her groundbreaking research on shame so much that I knew I had to sign up for her facilitator training in Texas. And it was in that oh-so-vibrant ‘hotel beige’ conference room that I learned the hard truth – the romantic story of how my brother swooped in and saved me was actually the birthplace of my perfectionism. The Daring Way™ forced me to look deeper into that story and see what was underneath – a story of how I felt rejected and ashamed that day, and how that feeling of rejection spurred me to wrap myself in protective armor.
I believed I needed that armor to shield me from a world that was ready to taunt me, see my flaws, and laugh at them. It was a real cannonball to the gut moment AND an absolute game-changer. I finally was also able to give myself permission to lay down my 20-tonne shield, exhale, and frickin’ relax.
After the training I felt like my inner wisdom and I were doing a funky two-step instead of falling over each other’s feet. That dance led me to be more open to relationships (I found myself in one just two weeks later!) and to having a career that I not only loved, but one that truly loved me back!.
Oh, and those alarm-call cells? They vanished. My specialist couldn’t explain it, but I sure could. My perfectionist gremlins were no longer running the show. Sure they still rear their heads from time to time, but now I recognize them in a heartbeat and thus the mess they make is wayyyy smaller and easier to clean up. I stay away from actions, and reactions, that make perfect lil’ snacks for my gremlins and all is quiet at my house – even after midnight.
The Daring Way™ showed me where I’d picked up my shame stories at just seven years old, and how to shift them so I could enjoy life as my real, imperfect self. If your intuition is yelling at you that there’s a deeper meaning to what’s happening in your life, stop shushing it! The Daring Way™ will be a game changer for you too.
So, if you’re ready to kick your inner gremlins back to where they belong (in the eighties!), apply for my online The Daring Way™ workshop here!