I once had an editorial assistant who, when she ran late, was honest as to why—it was, “I overslept,” and not “I had a leak in my ceiling.” Occasionally when she thought she’d completed something but hadn’t, she openly admitted to dropping the ball and apologized for doing so. She didn’t say, “Oh, the email was in my drafts folder.” And when I offered her feedback on things that needed improving, she accepted it graciously, not reluctantly. She didn’t get defensive; she owned it. She was a dream assistant.
Surprised by that statement? You shouldn’t be. The thing is, she wasn’t perfect and never pretended to be, and I appreciated this so much. Considering how many people throughout my career did their best to feign perfection, it was refreshing to work alongside someone who was undoubtedly hard-working but 100% imperfect and not bent on covering it up.
Look, I understand the inclination to want to impress your boss and colleagues, but at some point, if you can’t own up to the fact that you don’t have all the answers or that you make mistakes, you’re only going to hold yourself back. Plus, you run the risk of damaging your professional reputation.
1. People Will Think You’re a Liar
If my assistant had made an excuse beyond herself (technology issues, for example) for the times that she missed a deadline or failed to get around to a task I’d assigned, I’d have been annoyed as heck. There are only so many times you can say your computer crashed and you lost all your data. And if she insisted that the work she submitted wasn’t the “flawless” version she meant to send (just give her “30 minutes to recover the ‘right’ doc”), I’d have rolled my eyes to the back of my head. As long as she wasn’t consistently making the same errors over and over, I preferred her taking ownership.
I appreciated her ability to own her humanness. It made her relatable. I wasn’t always going to make precise professional moves, and the fact we were on the same page about that made it easier for me to tell her when I messed up.
2. People Will Think You’re Opposed to Feedback
Word’s out! Nobody’s flawless. When you fail to openly embrace yourself as a whole human—faults and all, you’re likely just scaring people away from giving you constructive criticism.
Receiving feedback (both positive and negative) is a necessary part of life. Learning to listen, process, and act accordingly demonstrates a self-awareness, and most, if not all, managers are going to praise that.
3. People Will Think You’re Not Learning From Your Mistakes
We’ve written a lot about the importance of failure for growth because we believe it’s an essential part of career advancement. If you never fall down, how can you get up and rise higher?
Every single one of us has room to grow, and one way of doing so is through learning from our mistakes. Understanding this concept is an enormous part of making personal and professional strides.
Don’t risk getting stuck where you are because you’re trying to pass as perfect. As author Brené Brown writes for CNN,
“Perfectionism is a 20-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it's the thing that's really preventing us from being seen and taking flight.”
Obviously, it’s not your intention to upset your boss or colleagues with your I-didn’t-do-anything-wrong attitude, but now that you know the façade isn’t earning you respect or admiration (presumably the impact you’d hoped for), you can relax and return to acting like a human. It’ll not only be less stressful, but you’ll grow a lot more as a professional.