Since expecting perfection leads to disappointment, why not use your imperfections to connect better with people? This reduces anxiety and builds interpersonal bridges.
[ music ] . Hi, this is Rob Sepich, and welcome to Relaxing with Rob. Do you have any friends who seem perfect, or at least pretty close to it? And if so, does that make them more or less appealing to you? And how happy do you think they are? I've worked individually with more than 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students, and here's an observation. Those students who seemed close to perfection to the outside world were often the ones who were in the most emotional pain. In episode 9, "A Cure for Perfectionism," I shared a way out of your perfectionism that I learned from a really wise psychologist. And today I'd like to talk about the benefits of embracing your imperfections. In the 2019 documentary "Pavarotti," we learned that toward the end of the singer's career, people started commenting on how his voice "wasn't what it once was." And by the way, whose is? At any rate, because of this legend's incredible talent and enduring fame, he was always in the public eye. And our expectations for his voice and his private life were just not sustainable. I really appreciated an interview that the director Ron Howard did with Bono about this issue. When Bono said , and I'm paraphrasing, that what people were missing in their critiques was the fact that Luciano Pavarotti brought more life experiences with each small crack in his voice. These are what made him Pavarotti. This insight reminded me of the Leonard Cohen song "Anthem" when he sings, "Ring your bells that still can ring. / Forget your perfect offering. / There is a crack in everything. / That's how the light gets in." My daughter once gave me a Groupon to a fancy health club that had, among other things, Zumba classes. And one of the instructors was really skilled. In fact, it seemed like she did not make mistakes. And there was nothing I could put my finger on, but it kind of felt like she was just perfect and it was weirdly taking the fun out of it. I only figured this out when I was about to stop attending, and she made a small mistake. And it took her a few seconds to get back in sync with the song. And she kind of smiled and apologized, and then continued. And in a flash, suddenly I liked her. She became human to me. I think it's our imperfections that make us human. In grad school, I was such a perfectionist, and it was totally out of fear of making mistakes. I figured I'd get discovered for the imposter that I felt like I was and that the department had definitely made a mistake in admitting me. And if they figured out this deception, I'd be kicked out and destined to live the rest of my life "in a van down by the river." And the thing is, if I felt that as a privileged white male in this culture, I can only imagine what many people from marginalized populations feel like. Well, my clinical supervisor said he felt that I needed to start making some mistakes with my clients, intentionally. He didn't mean big ones, but just little ones, you know, saying things like, I'm sorry, I'm not understanding, or I'm really confused here. Could you just say more about that? The feedback was actually very helpful because when I started doing things like that, I seemed to connect more effectively with my clients. So let's jump ahead many years where I was no longer concerned much with the imposter syndrome. Because my deception apparently worked! My stress management caper was a success! And I was working with a student referred for public speaking anxiety, and I apparently made some statement to her that this was something I once struggled with as well. So we spent the session on what I thought she could do to be more successful at this. A few months later, she wrote to me and told me about her public speaking successes since the time that we met. And I was delighted to read about this. But she said that what helped her the most was learning that I had also struggled with fear of public speaking. And I thought, "Huh? I don't remember saying anything about that!" But she said it gave her hope that she could improve too . And that prompted me to read research about self-disclosure in counseling and how with certain conditions it can be really helpful. And apparently the way I presented it met those conditions of being brief and relevant and so forth. So from then on, whenever it was appropriate and true, I started making some mention of a similar connection to the presenting issues of my clients, and this probably humanized me to students who were meeting with me for the first time. It certainly took the pressure off me to appear perfect, and it was one of those ironies where the less perfect I appeared, the more successful I became. In June, 2010 Armando Galarraga was a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, and he pitched a nearly perfect game. He had no runs, no hits, no errors for eight and two thirds innings. And then a ground ball with a throw to first was called "safe" and a perfect game was spoiled. The thing is, a replay later showed that the runner should have been called "out." And here's what a class act that Jim Joyce, the first base umpire was. After the game, he went to the Tigers clubhouse and asked if he could speak to the pitcher. And he apologized. And as an equally big class act, when the pitcher was asked by a reporter how he felt about the botched call, he said, "Nobody's perfect." Now, if you're a medical resident in let's say, neurosurgery, please know that I am not suggesting you botch an operation or two just to "humanize yourself" to your attending surgeon. But for most of us in lots of other situations, if you'd like to embrace your imperfections, own them, just acknowledge them. And this will not just reduce some of your anxiety. I think it'll make you even more appealing to others by becoming more human. And remember Leonard Cohen's insight that there is a crack in everything, and that's how the light gets in. Thank you for listening, and we'll talk again soon. [music]