25 Apr


"If perfectionism were a medication, the label would alert us to common side effects. 'Warning: may cause stunted growth'."

Grant, A. (2023). Hidden potential: The science of achieving greater things. Random House Large Print.

THE MEAT (The Main Idea)

So the meaning in this gem of a quote isn't too hidden- no pun intended, given the title of Grant's book, Hidden Potential. Grant's message is clear: perfectionism impedes growth. While this isn't a novel idea, it's the analogy that piques my interest. Likening perfectionism to a medication with potential side effects might be overlooked in this quote. Medications come with side effects, but not all individuals experience them. Similarly, while perfectionism may offer benefits such as heightened conscientiousness and greater attention to detail, it has its drawbacks for some. While it can drive higher performance, particularly in academic settings, perfectionism can drastically diminish efficacy in the workplace. Let's dive deeper and see what else this quote has to offer. 

THE CHEESE (Added Depth)

When you read further, Grant explores the concept of embracing imperfection as a pathway to learning and mastery. One striking example he provides is that of polyglots- individuals who excel in learning multiple languages. Contrary to the assumption that their success hinges on perfectionism or innate ability, Grant reveals that it's their willingness to make mistakes and embrace imperfection that set them apart. Grant recounts the story of one polyglot who adopted a systematic approach to desensitizing himself to discomfort. Instead of shying away from mistakes, he actively sought out opportunities to engage in deep conversation knowing he would inevitably make errors. The key takeaway was that embracing discomfort and accepting the inevitability of mistakes was essential for progress. Being comfortable with being wrong was the first step toward improvement (and the total opposite of perfectionism). 

I find my husband's journey for improvement most compelling. He actively seeks out discomfort as a means of challenging himself and expanding his abilities. Take, for instance, his unconventional approach to learning a new skill. Instead of shying away from discomfort, he dives headfirst into unpleasantness. 

Let me explain further. My husband, diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood, often finds his thoughts racing, sometimes leading to fragmented sentences in conversations and challenging writing experiences. For him, the act of writing with pen and paper is not just mentally taxing but physically painful. Writing manifests as stomach discomfort for him. While many in his situation would just avoid writing altogether, my husband took a different approach. 

To address both the mental and physical challenges, he deliberately pushed himself out of his comfort zone by switching hands while writing. The uncomfortable act of writing with his less-dominant hand paradoxically slowed his thoughts, easing his physical discomfort. When writing with his less dominant hand became easier - not perfect, he flipped his paper upside down. So, if you can imagine, my husband writes with his paper turned upside down AND with his less dominant hand. 

His goal has never been perfect writing but rather, he aimed for systematic discomfort as a stimulant for growth. 

Honestly, I'm in awe of his ability to push through discomfort for growth and improvement.  

THE OLIVES (A Surprising Element) 

Let's reconsider the word "stunted" in our quote. While the immediate interpretation suggests that perfectionism inhibits growth altogether, perhaps there's more to unpack here. Imagine a plant in a pot. The plant grows to the size of the pot. If transferred to a larger pot, it may have the potential to grow bigger. However, if you try to outsmart the process, or cut corners by immediately transferring the plant to a much larger pot, negative consequences ensue. Placing the plant in too large a pot causes it to channel all its energy into growing longer roots rather than healthy foliage. 

Balance is crucial. 

Patience is crucial. 

Similarly, in pursuit of excellence, it's vital to keep our standards high but not unreachable. Exercise patience as we grow, avoiding the temptation to rush the process and potentially stunting our development. 

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