In the wake of the 2018 NFL NFC championship game, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees made an appearance on a sports talk show. Undoubtedly, the topic of discussion was a blown call late in the game by NFL officials – a call that could’ve likely changed the fates of both teams, thereby sending the Saints – not the Rams – to Super Bowl 53.
While disclosing his thoughts on the matter, Brees mentioned his coping mechanism for such a heartbreaking loss. This mechanism is twofold in that, according to Brees, involves worrying only about the things he can control. The other half of this mechanism involves not worrying over things he cannot control, such as the officiating of the refs.
Although this mechanism is nothing new under the sun, it is a much-needed reminder to each of us. A reminder that reasserts the principle that we must not worry about the things we cannot control; however, the human psyche is still geared towards having absolute control over the most unattainable-trivial things. When seeking the unattainable and uncontrollable, such a pursuit yields the need for perfectionism.
Because we try to put our best foot forward to win what we can’t have. The more elusive the prize, the harder we try to seize the coveted trophy. For that reason, perfectionism is ever present. But unbeknownst to the human psyche in relations to this matter, the odds are stacked against us. Therefore we will never have those things.
With the art of dialogue, when talking to or with other people, what we control are the words that come out of our mouths. What we can’t control are the outcomes of how those words will make people feel. We’d all like for our words to have an impact on our listeners – so much that some will work overtime to craft the perfect punchline – or – say little to nothing for fear of flawed discourse. And so in everyday conversation, perfectionism is also ever-present, but on both ends of the spectrum of achievement as in Overachievement and Underachievement.
Perfectionism and Overachievement
Each of us has found ourselves in an instance of a struggle to find the right words. Maybe you’re a guy who once tried hard to impress a lady. Maybe you’re a lady who once tried hard to impress a guy. People have gone to extreme lengths to impress alleged Very Important People. I’m referencing VIP such as CEO’s, professors and celebrities. People have also gone to great lengths to impress their peers. And let’s be honest – the harder we or someone else has tried, the more awkward the types of incoherent sentences that are vomited unto the audience.
Those are awkward moments are nicknamed tripping over your own words, stumbling over your feet, or flat out kissing ass. Earlier, I said that we have control over the words that leave our mouths. But, when we try too hard to say the right thing, we lose control over proper word selection and ultimately fail to accomplish the objective which is to communicate verbally.
Perfectionism and Underachievement
Conversely, there are moments of painful silence. Instead of making a concerted effort to communicate, or, vomit an onslaught of incoherent sentences, we shy away from the moment. The girl you’ve been crushing on becomes unattainable because you don’t know what to say. The guy that steals your heart is now beyond your reach as you shy away from the moment to tell him how you feel. Your CEO, in your mind, becomes larger than life, all because you wish not to screw up when speaking to him/her.
Those moments are compounded with awkwardness. Not only is there a loss of proper word selection, but there is also a fundamental loss of voice. In this scenario, there’s no tripping over words, stumbling over feet, or ass-kissing – but only because an effort to say something has not been made for fear of failing to disclose imperfect speech.
While a junior in undergrad, my classmates and I received notice that a well-known media personality, Tavis Smiley, was slated to make a possible visit to our school of communications. On the day of Tavis’ visit, I was present in our campus studio. Instead of taking the reins and showing Tavis around, I stood frozen in time as our engineer escorted Tavis through our media facility.
While all of this took place, there was a struggle in my mind. I toggled back and forth between the choices of A) saying something to Tavis and B) don’t say anything to Tavis. Because of bad nerves and the fear of embarrassing myself – emotions that stemmed from the unnecessary need to be perfect, I settled for option B.
Could something of value transpired had I introduced myself to Tavis? An internship? Connections? Maybe. Maybe not. But I didn’t try, so I’ll never know what could have been. Nonetheless, sometimes a simple introduction can open doors.
To prove this point, fast forward to my senior year, I did the opposite. While attending a film festival, I introduced myself to a representative from one of our local television stations.
Overachievement nor Underachievement for the sake of perfection was in the equation.
Instead, just a hello, my name is, I’m a communications student, and I will graduate this month. Those simple words sparked a conversation that led to a job interview. It was that easy.
The Fear of Embarrassment
For both the overachiever and underachiever of perfect dialogue, some of the root causes are as follows:
• Fear of judgment from others
• Self-judgement (acting as your worse critic)
• Low confidence
The effects of the above said reasons lowers one’s confidence while making one second guess himself/herself. Most people would prefer not to look stupid, hence the fear of embarrassment. And clearly, I do not recommend overachievement or underachievement for the sake of perfected dialogue. Yet, in all seriousness, I can give some credit to the underachiever of perfect diction, though only because some people do not think before speaking. Period. Nevertheless, we must not allow perfectionism and over-analysis cause paralysis of the human voice.
My Three Shiny Cents
In my 2nd blog post, I chronicled the episodic moments of the ineptness that some of us have faced when afraid to speak up. One of the remedies shared in that post applies to this one which is this: you have to know your stuff. When you’re confident in what you know, it helps to stifle the second-guessing and gun-shy behavior. You say what you say because you believe in what you have to share.
Moreover, there are two additional tips I’d like to share. Tips to help reduce and ultimately eliminate the need to be perfect while engaged in everyday conversation.
In Podcast Episode #1, I reference the method of engaging in small talk with others. This is an exercise to condition introverts to engage in daily dialogue. Recall my brief introduction to the television representative back in undergrad. Sometimes all it takes is just one line or even one phrase such as Hello or Good morning. Practice those one-liners with strangers or better yet, with the Very Important Person or people in your world. This form of practice empowers people to comfortably talk to anyone, thus alleviating the strain to be perfect in conversation.
2. MARGINALIZATION OF VIP
There’s utility to mass net worth and vast social currency. Though we must remember that, despite one’s tax bracket or social status, we’re all the same. Pretty boys, gorgeous girls, celebrities, our peers – all of whom are under the umbrella of VIP – are normal flesh n’ blood human beings.
To overcome the intimidation experienced and to see beyond the glaring glow of these people while in their presence, you must view them through a different lens.
This involves marginalizing them, though psychologically to reduce their stature. There is no potion or special tonic required. Instead, complete realization within the mind that all VIP are normal, hence imperfect. And in realizing the imperfections of those deemed perfect, the need to speak flawlessly, say the right thing and sound utterly rehearsed becomes futile.
This brings me to my last point.
Imperfection Levels the Playing Field
Following Drew Brees’ disclosure of his coping mechanism, he referenced that football is an imperfect game that is played by imperfect people.
And, too, is our world and the people who live in it. I must say that this admission of imperfection is in no way a free pass to fuck up without remorse or conscience.
Instead, it is an ideology to help stave off the jitters while engaged in dialogue. For all that we do, we should aim to do our very best, though minus the pressure of perfection, because nobody is nor ever will be perfect.
In place of the phony anchorman enunciation, be yourself and keep it real. Indeed, how we talk to family, friends, managers and others will differ. Having said that, speak accordingly based on your listener(s).
But the two constants through it all are who you are and your style of speech – these are things you control. And what each of us has to say and how we say it matters, because everyone is a distinct unreproducible creation that brings newness and value to the table of life. With respect to your speech while in conversation – don’t over or under think it. And lastly, never allow the need for perfection to alter or stifle your real character, voice, and dialogue.