In seventh grade, I decided to try out for my school musical. With no prior singing experience or vocal talent whatsoever, I clearly didn’t think it through. As I naively stood in line waiting for my audition, the girls around me asked one another, “What are you going to sing?” They each named a different song from a Broadway play, and as I stood there holding my pamphlet of Christmas carols, I suddenly felt very stupid. My reply, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” evoked complete silence and confused expressions. Just as my full-blown panic set in, it was my turn. I stood on stage, pamphlet shaking in my hand, and began to sing. I only made it through the first verse before the drama teacher stopped me and asked if I had anything else to sing. Unfortunately, the only songs I had memorized were Christmas carols, so off I went with, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” It goes without saying that my Christmas caroling didn’t secure me the lead role—or any role, for that matter.
Am I embarrassed? No. Not just because it was ten years ago, but also because it’s such a great story to share. Why? I think the main reason is because admitting to mistakes makes you easier to relate to. Interestingly enough, science confirms this theory. While many of us spend a lot of time and energy trying to avoid embarrassing situations, the truth is that we actually seem more likeable when we mess up.
Researchers have conducted numerous studies on “The Pratfall Effect,” and have concluded that “when a person makes a mistake or acts in a clumsy way that might even make people laugh, they are found to be more likeable, including in comparison with people who are more intelligent and clever.” In other words, if you’re perceived to be competent at something and then you mess up, it shows your human side. This allows others to connect and relate to you, which in turn makes them like you more.
In one study, psychologist Elliot Aronson asked participants to listen to recordings of people taking a quiz. On some of the recordings, the quiz-taker was heard knocking over a cup of coffee. When participants rated the quiz-takers on “likability,” the group that spilled the coffee was ranked higher of the two.
Who knew that being clumsy could be cute? Having always been a perfectionist, I’m certainly relieved. Growing up, I was the type of student who had to get straight As and the type of athlete who always had to perform at the top of her game. Picture a blonde, less annoying version of Hermione Granger. The problem was that my standards were so ridiculously high that I was never happy. It was only when I learned to let go and forgive myself for my mistakes that I truly felt liberated.
Here are three helpful tips for letting go of perfectionism:
- View mistakes as learning opportunities. When one of your close friends or family members makes a mistake, are you quick to forgive and forget? Sadly, many of us are often more compassionate with others than we are with ourselves. With each mistake comes a lesson and if you can learn to let go, accept, and forgive yourself, you will be better equipped to handle life’s challenges going forward.
- Write down three situations in which you had a perfectionist mindset. For each situation, explain your thought process and then write the opposite—something positive and empathetic. Think of this as an “I forgive you” note to yourself. Save this and reread whenever you fall into the perfectionist trap.
- Mess up once each day on purpose. You might be pleasantly surprised by how good it feels. The more you practice making mistakes and successfully moving on from them, the easier it will become to face similar situations in the future.
More importantly, if you’re constantly worried about looking silly, you’ll never be able to take the risks that will get you that dream date or promotion at work. Even if you make a fool of yourself, it isn’t the end of the world. Think about it: What’s the worst that can happen? In many cases, the reward often outweighs the risk.