Embracing my own imperfection and learning to ask for critical feedback is one of my biggest growing edges at the moment. After decades of trying to look perfect, I am discovering the power of showing others my flaws. The result is better work, deeper friendships, and a more pervasive sense of ease in my life.
A week or so ago, I found myself saying to a friend about something I wrote, “What I really want to know is where you disagree with me.” And I meant it.
I want to conquer the sloppy thinking that I got in the habit of during my years of education where sloppy was good enough. Somewhere in my childhood, I adopted an expectation that I should be perfect. I did not develop skills for working through failure to success because success came easily.
I got As in school without trying. Although this sounds nice to people who haven’t lived it, it had a serious drawback. I never learned to work hard for anything; in fact, I learned to run away from challenges and give up easily. For most people, school provides many opportunities to practice tackling material beyond easy comprehension. For me, I didn’t reach that until the mathematics classes I took after calculus. By then, mathematics was optional for my education and I dropped math completely because I figured I just wasn’t good at math. The fact that I was 17 and doing advanced college mathematics didn’t register at all. The truth was that I was excellent at math, but I had never had to work at it so I had no idea how to approach a challenging problem.
Later, at Harvard Law School, I figured out that I could graduate with low honors by showing up in class and spending a week each semester studying for exams or I could study all day long and maybe do a little better. I chose to spend my time in rehearsal instead of the library.
Luckily, the hurdles to jump if you want to traditionally publish fiction are immense. Despite starting with a modicum of talent, I have had to work hard to improve my writing and learn how to overcome my own limitations.
Learning to accept critiques of my stories has allowed my writing to improve much faster than I could have figured out on my own.
But, more importantly, it has taught me a huge amount about making deep connections between people. Showing early drafts to others necessarily reveals your imperfection. The whole point is to put your weak work out there for people to see, to point out what can be improved. By its very nature, the process puts a spotlight on your current failure to meet your own goal. Creative work comes from our deep selves. Even though good critique focuses on the work itself, the work is so personal that I feel exposed when I share. By talking with people about the weaknesses in the work, I reveal the weaknesses in my thinking processes, my writing skills, and my understanding of people and the world.
When the critique focuses on the work and the reader’s experience of the work, the pressure is taken off the writer’s psyche. And, at the same time, the acceptance of the work as it is invites acceptance of the writer as they are. And, when a small group of people do this work together, an intimacy develops. It starts with care for each other’s work, but becomes a connection between individuals, mediated by the work.
Embracing imperfection in myself and sharing my insecurities and challenges with people lets them see me, not my persona, my deeper self. And this is transformative. It is when this deeper self gets seen and witnessed without judgement that we develop both deeper acceptance of ourselves and intimate connections with others.
We have to risk being judged in order to be seen at all.
I have learned this lesson in an intellectual way through my writing and through learning to accept critique.
However, intellectual learning is not enough for deep change. Carl Jung wrote in The Undiscovered Self that a person must have inner experiences of their deep self to maintain freedom and autonomy in the face of the inevitable social structures that pressure individuals to become bodies performing social roles. This deep self is that vulnerable, imperfect, unique individual.
InterPlay has given me fully embodied inner experiences of being acceptable in my vulnerable imperfection. One of the gifts of InterPlay is that leaders create invitations for the individual to show up as much or as little as the participant wants. In a group setting, nervous newcomers often discover their own willingness to let themselves be seen by observing others as they share themselves and are fully witnessed. In a one-on-one coaching environment, the coach creates the invitation more directly, but still gently.
I have taken decades to learn how to ask for help, so I have learned everything the hard way. It is amazing how much faster and easier change is when I embrace my imperfections and address them directly. And the indirect benefit of becoming more deeply connected with people and more at ease with myself is the best part of the whole process.
The principles and practices of InterPlay are the foundations of my coaching practice. To experience the power of this approach for yourself, join me for a free Focus Session.