Nobody’s perfect – but how honest should we be?

Nobody is a Master of the Universe, as the current economic collapse shows. Despite pressure to prove you are next to perfect at work, it is important to have space to admit both your strengths and weaknesses, argues coach Susie Kendall.

I remember a performance review I had at work once where, as usual, they quickly tell you that everything is fine, then spend the rest of the time focusing on one thing that you don’t do well. In my case, it was basically ‘bullsh***ing’, or rather lack-of. I was told off for not pretending I knew everything. On reflection, I think that was the beginning of the end of my legal career!
So when and where is it OK to talk about being less than perfect? I deliberately didn’t use the word ‘admit’ there, as there is no need for anyone to ‘admit’ they’re not perfect because we all know that no-one is. It is more about being open about what we might like or need some help with, and being mindful of when we are simply being hard on ourselves.
I really believe that it is essential to have the opportunity to articulate what is worrying us and what we might need to move forward in a safe, non-judgmental environment. At work, it is very rare to have a colleague, let alone a boss, who we feel is genuinely supportive enough to be truly open and honest with. The HR department is often not seen to be impartial so grievances or just general issues are rarely aired, let alone supported and dealt with. People are too scared of being labelled ‘incapable of doing their job’ or ‘a trouble-maker’. 
So, instead, we just moan and gossip. This breeds negativity and false rumours – at best, it achieves nothing – at worst it makes you feel worse and can get you into trouble. Or, we just do nothing. The frustration and helplessness eventually builds up affecting health and home-life. 
In terms of ‘bullsh***ing – frankly pretending that you know more than you do and can do more than you are capable of is, I think, dangerous. There’s a difference between being challenged and being deluded.   Taken too far, bullsh***ing leads to a great fall, often taking innocent people down with you (just think of Enron and a number of quite big banks…)
There is a balance to be struck between thinking “I’m a fraud, someone’s going to find me out soon” and “I am Master of the Universe”.
As a mother, experience of this type of environment with its ‘put on a brave face’ and ‘don’t trust anyone’ type culture can be really harmful and hugely affect our ability to cope and ultimately our enjoyment of parenting.
So where can we be open and honest about our ‘imperfections’? And how can we benefit from articulating them?
Find your safe environment
With whom and where is it OK to get this out in the open? What is appropriate?
Don’t feel judged
Just think – if everyone is as worried as you are about being judged (which they probably are), they are far too worried about what you think of them to be judging you!
What’s a stake?
Think about what will happen if you do nothing. Will, for example, frustration at the relentlessness of daily life, your inability to devote time to yourself, bitterness towards your husband, too much stress at work, eventually cause you to boil over?!   What will happen if you do boil over?
What is your intention?
Think about what you want to get out of it. Will you feel better just for having a rant?   Maybe you simply need an empathetic ear. Do you want some help or support? Or are you just sharing stories with friends for a laugh? 
Sometimes it helps to articulate your intent up front. I do this with my husband a lot. Being from Venus, sometimes I just need to get something off my chest, ideally with a bit of empathy in return. Being from Mars, hubby often feels the need to problem solve thereby missing the point, unless directed to just listen, nod, and agree….!
What do you actually need?
What are you struggling with? What can’t you do? What don’t you know? 
So what do you need to know? What do you need help with? What do you need to hear?
Maybe you need more childcare, more help at work, for your husband to take responsibility at home. You might need to improve your knowledge about something to feel more confident, by going online or buying a book. Maybe you need an open and honest conversation with someone.
By self-monitoring and expressing what’s wrong and what you need, you will avoid pressure building up, keep yourself on ‘slow simmer’ and never reach boiling point!
…and finally
Avoid self-criticism!
In coaching, we really encourage clients to watch the language that they use, including when we’re talking about ourselves. We can be extremely hard on ourselves and very self-critical.   Using the kind of language we would use if we were trying to support a friend would be much more helpful.

Susie Kendall is a former solicitor who retrained as a coach. For more information, visit, and see Susie’s blog. Susie is currently writing a book ‘Singing on the School Run’, a coaching book to help mums to retain a sense of their own identity and to stay confident in those difficult early years of motherhood.

Comments [1]

  • joanne gregory says:

    Great article. I am very guilty of putting pressure on myself to be a good, patient mum, preparing wonderful home made food, a good sympathetic wife with lots of energy and a fabulous employee who always meets targets. Women are expected to do too much these days and often a lot more than men so let’s cut ourselves a little slack and be a bit nicer to ourselves.

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