Veronica Grace has found that perfectionism leads to shame, and she wants her son to know there is no shame in failing.
I sat my son down for a very important discussion. I had him get comfortable and I said to him in my ‘this is really important’ mom voice. “I need you to know that you are going to fail.” He blew me off. He smiled and laughed and thought it was a joke. So I said “No, I need you to know that you are going to fail and then you are going to fail again. You will fail your whole life. You will fail beyond your wildest fears. You WILL Fail. You will fail over and over again. Then you will fail some more”
It was at that point that he got that I was serious and started giving me the ‘you have finally lost your mom marbles’ look, because that is not what the rest of the world is telling him. It is not something I had told him before, but I had been reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown and I had been stopped cold by her discussion of perfectionism:
“Perfectionism is not the key to success. In fact, research shows that perfectionism hampers achievement. Perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction and life paralysis or missed opportunities. The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticized keeps us outside of the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds.
Last, Perfectionism is not a way to avoid shame. Perfectionism is a form of shame. Where we struggle with perfectionism, we struggle with shame.”
My son is a perfectionist. Worse than that, the world keeps telling him that he should be able to do things perfectly…the first time. Everywhere are these messages about the boy (or man) who took a wild risk and it all turned out with fame and fortune. He is realistic enough to know that wild risks rarely work, but he is sure that if wild risks can succeed in nearly every movie he sees and story he reads, then his perfectly planned ideas should not fail. When they fail he is crushed, not only because he didn’t win the lego building contest (that had a secret prize of all the legos you can play with for life) but because he thinks that means he sucks. He is disappointed that he failed, but he feels shame for being a failure.
Screw that. I am done letting our culture give him the uncontested impression that people routinely succeed on the first try. I know the world will keep sending him the message that you just have to put yourself out there and try in order to be good at things. I will have to counter that with examples of hard work and long term perseverance, while also battling the idea that “practice makes perfect.” Every bit of his brain that is taken up with the idea that he can achieve perfection instead of excellence is setting him up for shame.
So once I knew he was really listening by his expression, I continued. I told him that I needed him to really truly understand that he was going to fail, because otherwise when it happened he might give up, or worse he might think it meant that he was a failure. I told him that everyone fails. Every single person fails, all of the time. I told him that success doesn’t happens when you do things perfectly, success happens when you keep working toward excellence after you fail.
I also told him that if he could really learn this he would not only achieve his goal of being successful, but also be happier which is my goal for him.
Since that day, I tell my son he is going to fail and I tell him often.
More importantly I tell him when I fail. I search out stories of success that include: how many times the person failed before they succeeded, or how a mistake turned out to be an amazing success and I share them with him.
Most importantly I tell him I love him, just him, no perfection required.