Striving to achieve a sense of perfection has been a misguided belief in my life, often leading me down the wrong path. It has made me, at times, place value on the wrong things. It has made me not listen to my true self for fear that I would somehow fail in another’s eyes. I was curious as to how the idea of perfection has become so pervasive in our society, how it begins, how it hurts us and perhaps, even, if it carries a certain benefit.
The idea of “being perfect” is something that plagues many of us in our society, causing a lot of stress and feelings of inadequacy. Where does this idea that we need to be perfect come from? How can we come to terms with (and find the beauty in) imperfection?
Over the past decade, I’ve witnessed major shifts in the zeitgeist of our country. I’ve seen it in the data, and honestly, I’ve seen it in the faces of the people I meet, interview, and talk to. The world has never been an easy place, but the past decade has been traumatic for so many people that it’s made changes in our culture. From 9/11, multiple wars, and the recession, to catastrophic natural disasters and the increase in random violence and school shootings, we’ve survived and are surviving events that have torn at our sense of safety with such force that we’ve experienced them as trauma even if we weren’t directly involved. And when it comes to the staggering numbers of those now unemployed and under-employed, I think every single one of us has been directly affected or is close to someone who has been directly affected.
“Worrying about scarcity is our culture’s version of post-traumatic stress…”
Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hyperaware of lack. Everything from safety and love to money and resources feels restricted or lacking. We spend inordinate amounts of time calculating how much we have, want, and don’t have, and how much everyone else has, needs, and wants. The greatest casualties of a scarcity culture are our willingness to own our vulnerabilities and our ability to engage with the world from a place of worthiness.
After doing this work for the past twelve years and watching scarcity ride roughshod over our families, organizations and communities, I’d say the one thing we have in common is that we’re sick of feeling afraid. We want to dare greatly. We’re tired of the national conversation centering on ‘What should we fear?’ and ‘Who should we blame?’ We all want to be brave.
Our culture of scarcity is defined by this sentence:
It only takes a few seconds before people fill in the blanks with their own version:
- Never good enough.
- Never perfect enough.
- Never thin enough.
- Never powerful enough.
- Never successful enough.
- Never smart enough.
- Never certain enough.
- Never safe enough.
- Never extraordinary enough.
The three components of scarcity are shame, comparison, and disengagement. To transform scarcity we need to Dare Greatly; we need to cultivate worthiness, a clear sense of purpose, and we need to re-engage.
On what it means to “dare greatly”:
The phrase “Daring Greatly” is from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech, Citizenship in a Republic. This is the passage that made the speech famous:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly . . .”
The first time I read this quote, I thought: This is vulnerability. Everything I’ve learned from over a decade of research on vulnerability has taught me this exact lesson. Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in…
“Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.”
We must walk into the arena, whatever it may be—a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation—with courage and the willingness to engage. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgment and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly.
—Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past 12 years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. She is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the way we Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.