Do You Let Your Perfectionism Silence You?!

Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make you a far happier and more productive person.

Dr. David M. Burns

For over a decade, I had the good fortune to teach part time at Loyola-Marymount University here in Los Angeles. One of my most memorable students, Lauren (names changed), was a senior in my upper division seminar on Interpersonal Communication & Technology. There were thirteen students, all seniors, and all Comm. Studies majors.  Because it was a seminar, the final grade rested on just one, ten-page research paper due end of semester.

Lauren handed in an eighteen-page report that was printed on thick, brilliant white paper that she’d encased in a plastic cover.  It was so clean and neat I thought I should wear gloves when turning the pages!

It was an impressive piece of writing; a solid “A.”  In terms of her final grade, though, I didn’t think she deserved an “A.” The class was driven by discussion and, aside from introducing her self the first night, she’d never once contributed to any of our discussions.  I couldn’t recall what her voice sounded like.

I gave her an A-.

No sooner had she gotten her grade than she called me at home. Tears poured through the phone as she demanded to know why I had given her an A-.

When I explained my reasoning, she rebutted: “You didn’t put in the syllabus that we’d be marked down for not participating in discussions.”  Hmm. . .she was right.

I agreed to change the grade (and made a mental note to revise the syllabus).

I was curious, though. Given that she was so bright, why hadn’t she ever spoken in class?

Her answer still floors me all these years later. She told me that her goal always was to graduate Summa Cum Laude. She had a “rough” freshman year and screwed up in one of her classes – she got an A-.  In all her other classes, freshman year on through to senior, she received all A’s – until I spoiled her record with that damnable A- which would have knocked her down from Summa.

I was stunned.

If she hadn’t talked in my class, which had a very relaxed vibe to it, did she talk in any of her classes? She said “no.”  She was so afraid of not getting an “A” that she never spoke in any class for fear that she’d say the wrong thing and be marked down.

This girl went through four years of college MUTE! I was saddened (and, okay, a bit creeped out) that she had let her obsessive need to be “perfect” silence her.

Although I was amazed, I understood the logic of her debilitating thinking. As a “recovering” perfectionist, her decision to silence herself made sense to me.

Do you see something of you in Lauren’s story? 

Do you silence yourself, holding back in discussion and conversation?

Many of my clients, looking to improve their Emotional Intelligence, struggle with speaking.


If you are silencing yourself, then consider these questions ~

  • What are you afraid of that makes you unwilling to engage others in conversation, discussion and even argument?
  • What is the worst that could happen if you spoke?
  • Why is it so important for you to be seen as “perfect”? And for the record, you’re not perfect as no one is perfect.
  • What makes recognizing your imperfections so dangerous?

Implied in the cliché “practice makes perfect” is the fact that you’re going to screw up countless times while practicing!

There is power that comes from laying claim to your voice. 

Why are you afraid of your own voice?


I don’t know what your fear is BUT I can tell you that it is grounded on a lie!

Professionals who come to me for communication skills coaching come to realize that –

  • There is a power that comes from being comfortable in your imperfect state.
  • There is a power that comes from not being mute.
  • There is a power that comes from offering people insights they might not otherwise have had.
  • There is a power that comes from discovering new insights when actively engaging others in discussion.

Choose power!

Fear is a question: What are you afraid of, and why? Just as the seed of health is in illness, because illness contains information, your fears are a treasure house of self-knowledge if you explore them.

Marilyn Ferguson

Do you want to own the confidence that will allow you to engage others without crippling self-doubt?


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