Your Imperfections Are a Hidden Superpower

What happens when you acknowledge all aspects of yourself — even the flaws

Confident senior woman in green against a violet background throwing up a confident pose.
Confident senior woman in green against a violet background throwing up a confident pose.
Photo: Flashpop/Getty Images

Over the years, I’ve encountered my fair share of trolling, and what I’ve learned is that it’s an art. What the finest trolls know is that in order to really get under someone’s skin, the attack must fulfill two conditions: 1) some tiny part of the person believes the message is true; and 2) they’re ashamed of it.

Suppose you tell me you’d rather eat dirt than my cooking. That’s rude, but I’m not going to get defensive. This is because I’m not ashamed of my cooking: I know the insides of my pots are scorched from many a kitchen mishap. I own that truth and will continue “experimenting” from time to time.

The remarks that invoke my fight-or-flight response, that get me stammering and heated and feeling ill, are the ones that stab deep into my insecurities. After I became a new mother, for example, I struggled with frequent bouts of mommy-guilt, so even the slightest indication that I was doing a bad job felt like a dagger to my chest.

There are two broad strategies to reduce the possibility of pain inflicted upon any of us by trolls or unkind critics or even judgmental family members:

  1. Reduce the number of such people in your life.
  2. Learn to be less ashamed of your imperfections.

Number one isn’t always possible. But the second option is something you have the power to do right now.

I have a question for you: Imagine all the people you wish to impress standing together making fun of you. What are they saying? The answer to this is your very own secret chest of insecurities.

When I was younger, my chest was enormous. I was terrified that someone I respected — whether a teacher, a mentor, a boss, a parent, or a friend — would think that I was (in no particular order):

  • an idiot
  • selfish
  • defensive
  • possessing of poor taste
  • pitiful
  • boring
  • superficial
  • weak
  • ineffective
  • … and about 49 other things

It’s burdensome to carry such a heavy chest. I was always on high alert, my radar scanning the words and attitudes of those around me to see if they might support any of these beliefs. And when I suspected as such (“My boss asked me to revise my proposal? HE MUST THINK I’M AN IDIOT!”), I’d find myself floating in a swirl of rejection and fear and self-loathing and despair.

Happily, my personal chest is getting lighter as time passes. I no longer get offended if an online troll calls me an idiot (because I think they’re mistaken) or if someone says I’m superficial (because I can be, especially when it comes to how I think a room should look). I suspect that the older we get, the less sensitive we become to certain aspects of our identity.

My experience has also taught me that you don’t have to wait for age to show you the way. This process can be actively accelerated. It takes two steps:

Be honest with yourself about yourself

We don’t like to think about our weaknesses. In fact, we may be so adept at avoiding this topic that we shove our chest of insecurities deep into the cobwebbed nooks of our subconscious. You can tell when someone has done this because you’ll offer helpful criticism and they’ll completely explode and turn it around to be about you and your failings instead.

So really, answer the question: In your worst nightmare, when you imagine all the people you wish to impress standing together making fun of you, what are they saying?

Write down your answers. Whisper them out loud. There is power in being able to give shape to fear in the form of words. It’s as if in the act of spelling them out, they release a bit of their death-grip on you. If you are able to say to yourself, “What I am secretly worried about is that I am not as smart as X, and I’m worried that Y won’t respect or love me as a result,” the fear suddenly shrinks from a giant anxiety word-cloud shadowing every aspect of your life to a tangible sentence that can be dissected and discussed.

Share your insecurities with someone else

When you express vulnerability, you show that they do not control you. Fear thrives in darkness. When you shine a light on it and expose it to another person, you begin to understand it — and overcome it.

There is power in vulnerability, in showing up not as invincible, but as human. There is a precious connectedness we forge with others because the demons we face are never ours alone. No matter what we are going through, others have faced the same, or worse. And even those that haven’t can give us what we need the most, which is not usually the answer, but rather validation that we are worthy.

Owning — and sharing — my imperfections means that they can’t be used to wound me. I skip reacting emotionally when I’m called a name by some rando with a complex, or given an uncharitable review by someone who would rather see me fail. Owning my imperfections means that I can tell my manager what I’m struggling with and ask for her help in furthering my growth areas. It means I can come to the table with humility and collaboration rather than a need to prove myself to a colleague. It means I can take accountability when my husband or kids call me out for being distracted or irritable.

We will always be works in progress. There is a better version of ourselves tomorrow, next week, next year. But it starts with acknowledging all the aspects of who we are today.

Currently: Inspirit. Former Product Design VP @ FB. Author of The Making of a Manager https://amzn.to/2PRwCyW. Find me @joulee. I love people, words, and food.

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