Maggie Mason thankfully called me out on it: “you are so totally a perfectionist.” For whatever reason up until this summer I never stared this reality down but my meditation retreat raised some of these traits and their implications. An area which surprised me, but felt very real, was discovering how this was impacting my sense of self-worth.
At the most basic (and petty) level, I was stressing out about “coffee meetings” with friends and new acquaintances – was I as helpful, smart, funny as I could have been? Did I make good use of their time? On the surface these would not be bad goals (I love to help and pay forward the help I’ve gotten from others) but I was applying them to an extreme. For example, if someone asked me to grab a drink to chat about their startup, my self-imposed expectation was that in our 30 min. together I would uniquely and insightfully solve any problem they raised. And then anything less would leave me questioning my own abilities and feeling apologetic to my friend. What a mindfuck! With this knowledge I came at the problem from both inside out and outside in.
First I amped up the pre-meeting “hygiene,” in advance gathering any prep materials and a clear definition of the other person’s goals. With this information I would convey pre-meeting whether I thought it was likely going to be a good use of their time or not. Sometimes we could resolve it over e-mail or I connected them to somebody with greater expertise. These plus a few other meeting hacks were logical approaches aimed at minimizing the number of ‘bad meetings’ but in the end I also needed to turn inward and examine my own mindset.
So what did I do? It was easy. Decided I don’t need to bat 1.000. That is, sometimes in the moment I might not totally get your idea. Or don’t know how to solve your problem about customer acquisition. Maybe if there’s mutual interest we can work together over the course of several discussions. Or perhaps I just thank you for the coffee and offer to stay in touch. Either way I celebrate the interactions that didn’t produce magic as much as the ones which do. And (#humblebrag alert) since I’m fairly confident I’m hitting somewhere north of .500, I think I still have a shot at the Hall of Fame 😉
[struggled a bit as to whether I should write this post (too personal? too boring?) but with some of this meditation stuff I’m going to err on the side of sharing]
Thanks Hunter — yes, please keep sharing these kinds of insights!
thx for the encouragement!
I'm also glad you erred on the side of sharing, Hunter. (I've often found that the posts that seem too personal–the ones that make me a little anxious before I hit “Publish”–prove to have unexpected value and meaning. So thanks for taking the risk.)
What I find useful here is the recognition that even when I'm trying to be of service, aiming at perfection is a form of unhealthy competition and self-aggrandization. (I'm not saying that's what you're doing, but I've certainly seen it in myself.)
I think it's much healthier–for me and for my relationships–to ease up on the throttle and be more accepting.
ed – thanks for the comment. I think there was/is definitely self aggrandizement taint in my situation as well. The desire to believe that I am so smart and insightful that I can solve any problem in any context. I don't think this is just about wanting to be helpful but also about the satisfaction I get. trying to become much less attached to that aspect.