I have just finished reading a book called ‘Mistakes I’ve made at work’ by Jessica Bacal. It is a collection of stories by very successful women like Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, Carol Dwek author of Mindset: the new psychology of success and many others of mistakes they have made in their careers.
There are two stories in particular that stood out for me in that book. One was by Carla Harries, she narrated a mistake that she had made when she was in investment banking that cost her company money. One of her colleagues kept talking about it with other people until she decided to confront him .
She said the following to him:
“You’ve always been very supportive of me,
and I know you want to see me do well. I just want to let you know that I understand the significance of this mistake; I learned from it, and I understand it was expensive. You don’t need to keep talking about it and I’m sure I won’t hear from you about it again, right?”
I thought that was such a courageous thing to do, and an exemplary way of managing such a situation
I believe that this is a very important book to have been written. As women, maybe more than men, we struggle with perfectionism and her twin sister, the good girl. This is because we have been socialised to seek to be liked. That our power is linked to how attractive and likeable we are.
I also think the reason why we do not talk about mistakes is because we have a need to create heroes, role models, idols which we can worship. The heroes have to be perfect, experts who have all the answers. We love stories of geniuses who have all the answers and are exceptional. This allows us excuses for why we cannot make it because after all we are mere mortals.
Dr Brenne Brown who researches shame and vulnerability talks about how people appreciate stories of vulnerability from others but do not like sharing their stories of vulnerability. In our weakest moments we don’t just want to hear about those who made it without making any mistakes. We want to hear that they have had moments of questioning themselves, that they don’t always feel confident and are not in top form all the time. We want to know that it is okay to be flawed. That we are still worthy of success, and to be seen and heard.
The next personally significant story in that book is by Dr Carol Dweck. She talked about how she avoided people who are impressed by her. The reason was that she was afraid that if she spent too much time with them, they might find out that she’s not as good as she appears and therefore lose their approval. As a result she lost out on mentors. I could so relate to this story because I too can remember a number of possible mentors that I turned my back on because I was so afraid that I will make a mistake and loose their approval.
One of the most important resolutions I made in my reflection during the COVID19 lock down is that I am going to run my business differently. That I will throw out the lie that I need to prove that I am good enough, that I am an expert, a perfect example in order to attract clients to my business. I decided I was going to bring all of me to the table. That I was going to give myself permission to be more vulnerable and more authentic with my clients.
I really think it is important to have a commitment to excellence, however I do think there is space for vulnerability. We can give ourselves permission to bring our whole selves to the table, including what we consider as flaws. Especially as black women, who are carrying a burden of being told for centuries that who they are is wrong, does not fit, is not acceptable. This requires courage but never perfection.