With everything going on in the world right now, how can you put time into a personal development plan? Start thinking about what you can do right here, right now. Kick-off your plans by telling yourself your plans don’t need to be perfect!
Putting together a personal development plan can seem daunting. It can feel overwhelming to put together a list of personal priorities for the future when the present feels uncertain. How do I know who I want to be six months or a year from now when I am trying to keep myself afloat right now?
I know this from personal experience.
In the two years, I have had to adjust how I thought about my own personal and professional development. No longer relying on an employer paying for my professional development, or asking me to complete a self-assessment once a year, or even having anyone give me feedback on the work I am doing, I have had to figure out what to do next all on my own.
Coupled with trying to kick-start a new business, manage a never-ending job search, and learning to pivot my skills in the middle of a pandemic – well, it’s a wonder I can look past the next hour much less the next month or more.
But I believe we all have the capacity to at least think about the here and now. We can do one thing, something, that will propel us forward to meet our goals. This post will be part of a series: in this post, I will address the lessons I’ve learned managing professional and personal goals, right here, right now.
Lesson Learned: Realize Your Personal Development Plan Doesn’t Need to Be Perfect
One of the lessons I’ve learned trying to manage my own personal development plan is that, without a supervisor telling me what I need to do or improve, anything I choose is my personal choice and is the best choice I can make right now. I don’t need to wait for permission. If I want to stop learning a skill, I can do that. No one will pay attention to what I am learning until I am ready to show them. And I don’t need to do something perfectly – perhaps just enough to understand and know what I don’t know.
Once I began to free myself of expectations, I wanted to start making bigger, bolder choices. Like, I decided one day I wanted to learn how to put together an online class I could share technical skills around assessment and other professional skills. I knew enough to know I could teach a course, but I didn’t know how to move forward.
And that was enough to stop me in my tracks.
My Personal Development Plan: One Year Later
I made that decision a year ago. And I didn’t do anything for a full year. But with the pandemic forcing me to re-think what I could do professionally, I decided it was a good time to revisit a couple of those to-do items I had nothing but time to tackle.
I started the pandemic by completing a couple of online certificate programs, one of which was just basic enough for me to think to myself “Oh, I can do this.” And once I thought to myself that I could do it, I realized I needed to at least try. All it took next was downloading a free learning management software and pulling together a training agenda and I was off.
I spent hours and hours trying to think of the right language to make learning easier. Poring over existing classes and curriculum to see what I wa missing. And generally disliking the entire enterprise. Until I reminded myself that no one had to ever see these first attempts. All I needed to learn was what I didn’t know and avoid trying to be perfect.
The Trap of Perfection
We can all get stuck by trying to be perfect. Especially when we’re working alone and don’t have a feedback loop to help us readjust our timing and goals. William Knaus, in “The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety,” outlines 6 common perfectionism traps that anyone can find themselves in. But once we acknowledge the trap, we can work toward a meaningful solution and achieve our goals.
Trap One: Self-perfectionism
Self-perfectionism gets people trapped into the rigid mindset of “I must not make mistakes,” “I must have the approval of others,” or “I must behave in a certain way to be worthy.” When people adopt this way of thinking, it can be very painful to feel the slightest sense of disapproval or there may be intense feelings of shame or self-punishment when a mistake has been made.
These forms of faulty cognitions keep you stuck… they tend to play over and over again in the mind, almost as a form of self-mockery or self-punishment. These thoughts take you away from the present moment (i.e., mindlessness) and keep you from changing your behaviors in an effective way that will actually help you reach your goals.
Trap Two: Social perfectionism
Social perfectionism is the idea that other people “should” comply with your rules. This form of perfectionism and control will eventually go awry since the only person’s behavior you can control is your own. If you want to choose to put yourself in a position where you are guaranteed to be frustrated, ineffective, and drive away those you care about, try to control the behavior of other people.
Sometimes other people’s ideas and desires correspond with your own, and you can happily engage in similar activities together. Other times, people hold differing views or have different wants/needs. Begin to learn how to build up your emotional tolerance by choosing to focus in on what you can tolerate about important people in your life. Look for one positive to balance each negative.
Trap Three: Learning perfectionism
Learning perfectionism occurs when you find yourself being your own worst critic when you are trying to learn something new. Perfectionists can be their own toughest critic, and can be excessively harsh on themselves when they don’t pick up new skills or knowledge “right away.” Recognize the rigidity of this mindset and the negative consequences that it has on you.
We all can be awkward and slow when learning a new skill. Try to reframe your difficulty as a learning opportunity. There is much to be learned from failure – minor and major. Apply mindfulness to difficulties that you encounter when learning something new – really observe and notice where the difficulties occurred and what corresponding thoughts and emotions you had as a result.
Trap Four: Product perfectionism
Product perfectionism is the idea that anything “less than perfection” in what you do is seen as a threat or as unacceptable and evokes a strong feeling of anxiety. Many perfectionists who are creating something new in their home or work lives feel a powerful sense of anxiety over whether or not the final product will be “good enough” or meet some ideal standard.
For many, this anxiety over the perfection of the final product prevents them from taking action when they should and keeps them stuck in the “development phase” for far too long. Try to reframe this anxiety by recognizing that development is a process. Notice that creating new products has many stages and that there are often opportunities to go back and make revisions on products later.
Trap Five: Comparative trap
The comparative trap occurs when you relentlessly compare your own accomplishments to those of other people. Perfectionists tend to choose very accomplished people to look up to and compare their own progress. While having very successful role models can be inspiring and motivating, be careful that it doesn’t put you in the position of never being satisfied “enough” with your own work that you are able to develop real traction and momentum.
Constantly comparing your own success and performance to other people makes it more likely that you will be in a constant state of anxiety and fear. It also tends to make people feel much more anxious when in the presence of others that you have “decided” are superior in some way. Instead of getting caught up in this competitive mindset, focus on what you can do to improve. If you must compete or compare, compare your current self to your former self… strive to be “better” than you used to be.
Trap Six: Performance anxiety
Performance anxiety can ensnare you when you begin to believe that you must succeed in all of your endeavors. This is the idea that success is the only option and that mistakes cannot and should not be made. This is a rigid way of thinking, is highly unrealistic, and is difficult to maintain in the long-term.
A new way of reframing this need to succeed in “everything” is to focus instead on performing to the best of your abilities at any given moment. If you are tired or feeling sick, recognize that you will not be able to attain “peak” performance. Practicing mindfulness can help you become more in tune with your current mental, emotional, and physical state so that you can be more accurately assess your true capabilities in any given moment.
How to Move Past Perfectionism
One method to move past our blocks – in this case, perfectionism – is to identify it. Once we name our mental blocks, we can figure out how to move past it, work through it, or at the very least acknowledge it. Naming the mental block also allows us to talk to other people about it and ask how they have moved past something similar. Below are three online tests you can take to learn more about how perfectionism shows up in your life
- Psychology Today – Perfectionism Test
- Discovery Health – Perfectionism Test
- BBC – Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale
Another method I have found useful is to practice vulnerability with transparency. What this means to me is being honest not only with yourself but with family and friends. When asked how you are doing, tell them you are struggling with trying to be perfect learning a new skill related to your personal development plan, and how that makes you feel. Sharing emotions allow others in our lives to carry some of the burdens.
We aren’t less when we ask others for help – if anything, we give ourselves permission, ultimately, to be more than we expected. Try being more vulnerable and see if it works for you. I have found, personally, that I have grown more and have more compassion and empathy for others when I am vulnerable.
Career Coaching for the Mid-Level Career Professional
I have worked with entry-level and mid-level career professionals for nearly ten years, helping them reconsider their strengths and ways to learn new skills. Let me know if there is anything I can do to support you as you develop this new skill.
Schedule an introductory meeting so we can discuss a plan that works best for you.