Are you a Perfectly Imperfect Professional? Then Freaking Hurray for you (and me)!

Warning: If you expect a perfectly executed message, sunshine wrapped up in a rainbow, zero profanity, and impeccable sentence structure, then run quickly away as this blog post will likely disappoint or offend or both. I've got a rescue kitten perched on my belly currently who is playing with this keyboard and I'm not moving him.

Each week I receive an email, FB message, or text message that reads something like this, "Hi Mari, I really appreciate your (product, service, support, session). You seem like you have it so together, I just have to ask, how do you do it all - are you are a Wonder Woman?!"

My answer is always along the same lines, "You are welcome, and thank you for your kind feedback. Here's the thing, I don't do it all, and I don't wanna' be Wonder Woman!" (though I'm all about a great accessory so I do kind of like her magic bracelets).

I am a recovering (note the word selection of recovering vs. recovered) perfectionist. What drove this need for perfection was not the desire to be "perfect", rather is was to avoid disappointing others and getting "in trouble." You see, I grew up with adoptive parents who created a rigid household of punishments for less than straight As, clean as a whistle rooms, and perfect grammar. "Geez" was considered a cuss word and, if spoken, the rule breaker would receive a shaming lecture along with 2 weeks of chores and grounding.

Geez, what a nightmare that was!

Those early experiences groomed me to be an anxious over achiever, and an emotionally dishonest people pleaser where my insides and outsides did not match. As a result, I did nearly all of the heavy lifting in most of my personal and professional relationships through my teens, 20's and most of my 30's.

And let me tell you was freaking ex-haus-ting.  

Long before there was a Brene Brown (God bless her ever lovin' bones for her research on this topic!), and a few years before I was a licensed therapist or a coach to therapists, I had hit a wall of resentment from living as a perfectionist. I was so done they needed a new word for done!

I was sick to death of putting on a professionally correct face, agreeing to take on more for less, kissing ass, living in fear of offending someone, and overcompensating in my personal and professional relationships at the expense of my own well being.

Screw that noise!

One day about 15 years ago, a couple of years before my 40th birthday, after feeling beat up and bedraggled from a particularly tiring design project with a particularly tiring client, I just stopped. I simply said: ENOUGH! I fired the client, terminated the project, and I walked away from people, places and things that no longer felt authentic or healthy. 

This one act of hard won courage, mixed with a heavy dose of total exhaustion, was a first important step on a brand new journey. A journey that led me toward doing the clinical and consulting work I love, with clients I deeply enjoy working with.

Therapy, self advocacy, and a lot of practice over time, moved me into a new way of being. I was less fearful of what others thought of me. My no became no, and my yes became yes. My insides and outsides matched. If I was happy, I expressed joy. If I was angry, I expressed this clearly and appropriately. If I was tired, I declined with no explanation or excuses. If I felt hurt, I shared why.

I no longer apologize for any aspect of my being. And I no longer attach too much importance in how people interpret who I am.

I like fashion, big hair, and high heels - but if that is all you think I am, too bad for you. I enjoy an occasional reality TV show, and I eat carbs - like big hunks of bread and chocolate now and then. But if you think I don't care about my health, oh well. I love God and am a Christian - but if you think that means I am judgmental and don't embrace other peoples beliefs or orientations, or if you think that means I am a sinner because of my life choices and what I believe, more power to you. Meditation bores me, but I must get out into nature regularly. I drop an F bomb now and then, but appreciate the power of prayer. I need my solitude, but also love a dance party. I do work hard, but don't consider myself a "work-a-holic"; I have my good and bad days like anyone.

As I healed and grew (and grow), I no longer swallowed my words when someone threw out a nasty little jab or passive aggressive comment dressed up like a joke. These days I clearly ask, "I am not sure I understand, will you clarify what that meant?" Instead of assuming or feeling ashamed and racing around trying to make it all better, I let go of what does not belong to me. I learned what "choosing your battles" really means...for me.

After years of people pleasing, I was done with twisting myself into a pretzel, or allowing for manipulation (even when I could spot it a mile away) at the expense of the most important relationship I was ever going to be in - the one with myself! I began to call people on their bullshit...with love. Or at the very least, with like. Or if not love and like, then certainly compassion. If someone asks for my opinion, I share my honest thoughts...kindly, but clearly. I don't need a zillion "LOL's or smile emoticons."

If that person then refuses to own their stuff, then I refuse to participate in the undermining of my worthiness.

These days, I appreciate it when my circle of safety calls me on my shit as well. If I am not making an apology at least once a month, then I am either A) Walking on Eggshells, B) Not being authentic, C) Not owning my crap.

I lean into difficult conversations with openness and curiosity, manage expectations, and detach from the outcome. I allow trusted others in my life to share feedback about me to me, without needing to negate their experience - even if it does not align with my own. If someone shares a certain something that does not resonate with who I know myself to be at my core, I do not take that in as my truth. These days I practice, really practice, receiving kind criticism and using it to grow myself.

I finally, passionately, with the full bad ass of my whole entire being accept that I am a work in progress. 

Like it or lump it, I am who I am at the end of the day. Imperfect but willing to own my stuff and to keep on trying to bloom where I am planted.

Oh, and this was another cool outcome of this new evolution/revolution of Mari: Over time I no longer needed to control the way others experienced me. And, I was also no longer willing to collude with gas lighting. Meaning: If you are doing something unkind covertly or overtly during our interactions and you refuse to own it, I will address this. You may use silence as violence, or minimize the transaction, or rationalize all you wish, but rest assured, I will address it with you.

Love him or hate him, Dr. Phil coined a brilliant saying a few years ago: "We teach people how to treat us." I had taught a couple of unhealthy people in my life how to treat me pretty poorly in my 20s and 30s. And then blamed them for my colluding with their bad treatment. 

These folks were familiar with me acquiescing and plastering on a smile (which is the quickest way to dis-ease by the way). They relied on me to be the agreeable one and the yes woman. They hedged their bets and bad behaviors on my making excuses for their crap.  Much like Harriet Lerner's classic book, "The Dance of Anger", they were comfortable with the dance we engaged in, and wanted me to "change back" whenever I tried to shift into a more assertive place of self advocacy. I was to stay exactly as they wanted me to be if we were to remain friends. Rocking the boat was not an option.

When I was no longer willing to be an accomplice in my own unhappiness, when I was no longer willing to betray myself for the sake of another person's comfort level, when I learned to hold good boundaries instead of holding grudges, and when I was willing to call a spade a space, I found that the other person was either willing to look in the mirror and make a change, or God and the universe allowed our paths to separate. It did not happen often, but when it did it was sad. But it was also necessary for my growth and peace of mind.

When we are no longer willing to be, "Always in Control Charlie, or "Little Miss Polly Positive", when we call people on their shit without trying to control their shit, sometimes (OK, most times) people will rebel. Or they will label you. Or they will whine. Or they will argue. Or they will threaten. Or all of the above. Fine by me, do what you need to do. And sometimes, they will pause, breathe, take in your reflection, honestly reflect their experience, and move forward as a journey companion willing to do the work to stay in the relationship.

The best gift I ever gave myself was a damn breaky break from controlling and perfectionism. And then I had to figure out how in the world I was going to embrace the formerly intolerable: uncertainty.

Was it as easy as all of this? Nope. It was really hard. R-e-a-l-l-y hard. It took a lot of time to learn how to be an emotionally honest women, to be kindly direct (even when my knees were knocking together). I learned how to be compassionately truthful about my experiences (even when my mouth was dry). And I learned a whole lotta' whole lotta' about boundaries. 

Holy shit! What a concept! I could actually have boundaries? Who knew?

Over time, I beat myself up less and less about things that once drove me a little nutty: a few extra pounds, a typo or three, people giving me a hard time about parts of me that did not fit into their comfort level, or me giving myself a hard time about needing to do things "the right way." The right way according to who? (whom? who cares!). In the old days I would've Googled the who or whom grammar thing. My adopted father was a teacher after all, I am an author, shouldn't I just know this one by now?

Honestly, I just don't really care. Ho hum. Sounds like too much work on a beautiful California evening. 

I also learned to give myself less and less grief about business mistakes. Every single business owner makes mistakes, has a good idea that bombs, becomes involved in a project that feels draining, experiences shunning , or creates something that doesn't always go as planned. If you are a business owner and you are nodding your head, welcome fellow tribe member!

Today as I get ready to lead a Multiple Income Streams webinar in the morning for a group of wonderful healers, someone from my team (a person I adore) said this to me as we went over final details, "Mari, this presentation is going to go past the allotted time. I know that you want to give them as much information and tools as possible, but if I were an attendee and I expected it to end right on time and then did not have time to ask you my question, I'd be super pissed!" 

Back in the day, this concerned feedback would have stopped me in my tracks. I would have spent hours and hours trying to perfect every single power point slide, agonizing over the timing and delivery. No thanks. No more.

Without missing a beat, here was my loving response, "I love that you are looking out for me. Here is what I think: If an attendee is furious because I gave them a decade of information that I worked my ass off refining, sharing detailed information that I paid for, tools that I created over years and years of hard work and application, material I was willing to share with others - all for less than $200, and they are upset simply because it went over by a few minutes, or they did not get to ask a question, then I will gladly either: A) Make a few minutes for them to answer their question at another time, or B) Refund their damn money."

She laughed nervously, and that is OK. She is young and her journey is her own to have. In time she will learn that you cannot please all of the people all of the time. Nor should you. I call this managing expectations. When I attend a webinar I expect that I will leave with some tools and information. I understand that it may go on a little longer than expected, or things might not go exactly to-the-letter-of-the-law as expected. I don't expect the facilitator to make it all perfectly perfect. Stuff happens, life happens, tech issues happen. I expect that the facilitator will do their best, be prepared, and that is enough for me. 

This entitlement of expecting that other professional people must be perfectly perfect in business needs to change. One person at a time, one conversation at a time, one book at a time, one blog post at a time. Can't we learn to extend a little latitude for the random typo or two (or three), the presentation that runs a little long, or the person who makes a mistake? 

And speaking of mistakes, for the sake of transparency, and to put my money where my imperfect, irreverent mouth is, this year I have had some dream-come-true successes, and I have had some embarrasing blunders. The following lists out my top business mistakes so far this year, or what I like to call, A.F.L.O.s (another fucking learning opportunity). I am sure there are many more that I am forgetting about, and more to follow in the year ahead, but for the sake of wrapping this up, here is what comes to mind:

Mari's 2015 AFLO'S:

1. I accepted a gig on total trust where I did not get all of the information up front before signing on. 

2. I gave too much of my time to support a project with leadership that was competitive, non-inclusive, refused to acknowledge me as part of the team, or publicly include me or express appreciation for my contributions.

3. I double booked a therapy session (not gonna' lie, this one is still a bit cringe worthy).

4. I called a new colleague a different name during a luncheon...twice. To their credit, they called me Ralph and we now have new nicknames! I've never been a Ralph before. I kind of like it!

5. I forgot to return a client's call when I promised I would. Completely plumb forgot. A first. And likely not a last. This one took a few days to move through. The client and I are on track, but it was a tough lesson.

What I learned from these mistakes in order of the AFLO:

1. Get it in writing (I know this, I teach this, but I trusted). And, if you don't - then roll with it baby!

2. Stand confidently in being a professional who treats others with respect and kindness, who is inclusive and kind, and whose public and private face match. Refuse to be shamed for calling bullshit on bad behavior - even if I am the only one who sees it that way.

3. Create better boundaries around my time. Slow down, breathe, don't take on too many projects or clients at once. Express gratitude for those who support me, privately and publicly.

4. Continue to embrace humor and laugh at my clumsy and goofy self at times. 

5. Apologize, own it, and move forward.

And the deeper life lessons I learned from these AFLO's this year are:

I will continue to believe in the goodness of others. Even those who are competitive and unable (for whatever reason)  to express appreciation and recognize others.

I will continue to trust, even if that means that sometimes someone may take advantage of me. That is their karma...not mine. I won't allow my heart to harden simply because of another person's refusal to take ownership and grow. 

I will continue to be open to dialogue and working out differences (because differences happen in business relationships at times).

I will keep an open door to discussions, but I will also give myself permission not to have to work out both sides of the problem if the other person is unwilling to join the conversation..honestly.

If a relationship feels toxic, and the other is not willing to own and work on their stuff (and we all have our stuff), if they are not willing to participate in repairing the rupture, then I will give myself the green light to step out of the relationship entirely if need be.

I will set limits on how much of my professional time I give away. Yet, I will continue to support others because this feels good for my heart. My professional boundaries are for me to know, name and maintain.

I will continue to be an authentic, transparent, and whole hearted professional. I will align myself with others who are the same.

I will be unwilling to do future business with those whose public professional face and message does not match their private professional treatment of others. 

I will allow for people to change, I will jettison resentment, and I will surrender what I cannot control.

I will slow down and think clearly about the projects and clients I take on. I will operate from a place of abundance and place limits on how many hours I work per week. I will embrace that I am a woman of worth and that my time and expertise is valuable and deserves to be compensated.

I will embrace that I am perfectly imperfect. I will accept that you are as well.

I will always trust my gut.

Kindly and in support,

Mari A. Lee, LMFT, CSAT-S
The Counselor's Coach

P.S. Does this ring true for you? I'd love to hear your own story of letting go of perfectionism in the comments below.