Catherine Spann, Ph.D.
Letting Go of Perfectionism: 3 practices to become more authentic
Updated: Apr 19, 2020
"Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we're supposed to be and embracing who we are."
—Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
You know what I don't love? Putting myself out there.
I need no other evidence of this than the date I drafted this blog post: November 3rd, 2017 (see screenshot for confirmation).
It's October. October two thousand NINETEEN.
I worked up all of this courage to start a blog two years ago, but then I let my perfectionism and fear of vulnerability keep me from writing.
"Will this blog seem self-indulgent or narcissistic? Will my friends and family think I'm a phony? Will people like me? Will everyone notice the band aids on my elbow from crashing my bike the day before this picture was taken?"
These are just a few questions that the lovely, sweet, kind, supportive voice in my head likes to ask.
The Roots of Being Inauthentic
Self-study is my favorite past time. It's one of the reasons I spent a gazillion years of my life getting degrees in Psychology. (Pro-tip for the youngsters: if you're curious about learning about yourself, don't get an undergraduate degree in Psychology, go to therapy.) My self-studying taught me that my fear of "putting myself out there" is rooted in perfectionism. And those roots of perfectionism are firmly grasped to other people's opinions about me.
Brené Brown, who is basically my academic, emotional, and spiritual fairy godmother, said it perfectly when she wrote, "perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It's a shield." Perfectionists like myself believe that we are what we accomplish. Other people's opinions are the primary concern and we have trouble accepting ourselves and other people. The biggest problem with this "other-focused" type of thinking and living is that there is no space for authenticity to grow.
Authenticity, my fairy godmother Brené Brown writes, is “...a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
Being authentic is not a binary quality - it isn't the case that people are simply authentic or inauthentic. Rather, we all fall somewhere along the gradient of authenticity on any given day in any given circumstance. Where we fall on this gradient boils down to how we choose to practice authenticity.
How to Practice Being Authentic
In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, my fairy godmother outlines three practices to guide us on a path to more authentic living.
Practice the courage to be imperfect; the courage to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Practice the courage to set boundaries so that you do not live your life people-pleasing and seeking approval from others.
In today's addition of my authenticity practice, I'm choosing the courage to publish this blog post even though I could probably pick it apart, delete, rewrite and repeat that cycle for the rest of my life. The topic might make some of my friends and family uncomfortable. Or that might simply be a lie I'm telling myself. Either way, I'm posting my writing not to seek approval from others. I'm doing it for myself. (At least that's what I'm telling myself)
Specifically, self-compassion. The component of self-compassion to practice for authenticity involves acknowledging that every other person in the world struggles. We are not alone in our struggles. Suffering is part of being a human.
My self-compassion practice takes the form of reflecting on the fact that other people suffer from self-doubt and self-destructive thinking. I remind myself that these thoughts and emotions are part of what it means to be a living and breathing person. I also think about how not one single person begins anything as an expert. You must struggle, fail, and practice, practice, practice, to be good at what you want to do.
Practicing connection means contacting and sharing with the people in your life. Practicing connection does not mean sharing all of your life's secrets with everyone you meet. It means sharing the parts of you that you are ready to share with the people you trust. Connection is made when people feel seen, heard, and valued. In order to feel seen, heard, and valued, you must do this for others.
Connection is the hardest practice for me, because it involves opening up to other people. Did I mention I struggle with that? I practice this by sharing with the person closest to me. Sometimes this is as far as I get. Many times, though, simply putting words together to express how I feel propels me to share myself with friends and family.
Being Authentic Takes Work
Practicing authenticity is not the safe choice. The safe choice is hiding in your own head in your own little corner of the world. The safe choice is staying the same so that the people around you don't have to be uncomfortable while you change.
The safe choice doesn't get you far. For me, the safe choice meant not writing for two years.
Now, I'm in the beginning stages of becoming more authentic. I'm like a newborn baby discovering what it means to let go of perfectionism and put myself out there. My first baby step is publishing this post two years later.