Oh boy, I had a humbling experience this week. I presented a proposal to a new client. I was out-of-my-skin excited about the program I had developed and the personal development work that I might have the privilege to do with a very large group of people. I had thrown my heart into assembling my best ideas in a way that, I thought, would meet this potential client’s needs.
When we met to go over the proposal, I could see by the looks I was receiving that something wasn’t quite right. Within minutes it became clear that I had completely misunderstood the scope of work and my proposal was way too big for the project my potential client wanted to offer their employees.
I missed the mark. By a lot.
An event like this definitely could send me into a shame spiral. It could send me down the path of “shoulda-woulda-coulda” and all the self-berating that comes along with that mantra. It could also send me into a tizzy of looking for someone or something to blame. There’s a voice in my head that, given the megaphone, will holler, “I would NEVER do this! This HAS to be someone else’s fault!!”
The thing is, it was not anyone else’s fault. It was a misunderstanding. I had gathered a lot of information in our initial briefing – all of which I put into this proposal. What I didn’t get was that a lot of what was mentioned were big ideals and not the concrete ideas that the client actually wanted to explore at this time. In my enthusiasm, I missed that cue.
And, I gave them all I had to give. A solid proposal with lots of good thinking and wonderful offers. But it was just too much.
It was a humbling moment indeed. As someone who teaches the art of Authentic Communication, I had a lot to be embarrassed about. I felt like I had failed miserably in applying the principle of LISTEN. How had I imagined that the scope of work was exponentially larger than what the client actually wanted? I failed to listen with intention and focus.
Which is to say, I messed up. [Cringe!!]
At age 12, I knew I was a perfectionist. I remember telling that to my Dad in a conversation in his car. The memory is so clear for me – I remember where we were and the question that he had asked me: What do you think your biggest fault might be? My answer, I might be too much of a perfectionist.
Fast forward a few decades, after a career in public relations and crisis communications – fields where messing up is very, very difficult to come back from – and I’m seeing hope that I’m recovering from perfectionism. Today I can see that the “miss” with my potential client wasn’t disastrous. Though I may have failed at listening, it wasn’t the end of the world. I didn’t berate myself for the mistake. Instead, something else kicked in, and I’m pretty sure it was humility.
When I aim to be perfect, I’m shooting to be super-human. Luckily, I’m learning that, well, I’m not. Instead of working hard at being perfect, I’m working harder at being me – a messy and magnificent human being.
I practice observing myself. I try to get out of my own way so I can see who and how I really am – the full catastrophe, to quote Jon Kabat-Zinn. I lean hard into the first principle of Authentic Communication, BE, which is all about self-awareness and presence, and it serves me incredibly well.
This week, when I realized my mistake with my client, I wanted to crawl under my desk. I wished I could just disappear. Despite my embarrassment, though, I was able to tune into what had happened and not collapse with shame. I put my feet flat on the earth, got grounded, and breathed.
And you know what happened? I felt joy.
I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. I felt the humble, honest joy of being alive, of being human. Yes, I made a mistake, and it’s one that can be corrected. I even suggested to the client that we could pretend this massive, comprehensive (and expensive) program that I presented was like a restaurant menu from which we could choose what would best serve the client. In fact, it’s such a big program, I said, maybe it’s even like the never-ending menu at The Cheesecake Factory. So many choices!!
I believe this client will give me a second chance. I can try again. And, as ever, I will aspire to bring excellence to my proposal and all my work. And I will bring joy and humility.
Perfectionism is a hindrance rather than a help in this fine life. I can’t do my good work or live a full life if I am held back by a compulsive need to be flawless.
Today I’m rewriting the proposal. Scaling it back to the scope of work that the client requested, and I’m doing it with a smile. I’m so very grateful that I have the chance to keep the conversation going, grateful for a bit of self-awareness that kept me present in that difficult discussion, and grateful for a willingness to learn and grow from the experiences that life offers up to me. I’m grateful to recover from perfectionism and to find deep comfort in linking arms with all of my beautiful brothers and sisters. It’s good to be alive. Think I’m gonna have some cheesecake to celebrate.
An excellent expose of human beings’ failures and successes!! You grew more than you know!!!
Thank you soooo much, Mom! You're one of my biggest fans and greatest teachers. I love you!
Thanks for the very thoughtful article that definitely reminded me of recent proposals that probably missed the mark for similar reasons.
It's so good to hear from you, Mauro. Thank you for sharing your own experience -- I'm really grateful to know I'm in such good company. 😊 Warm hugs to you, my friend!
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Here you'll find some of my thoughts about communication, contemplation, yoga, life and various other topics. Thanks for giving them a read.