How Imperfection Can Help You Grow
When you start an internship, or really anything new, it’s a little weird. Add to the mix that Cisco is full of incredible minds who are moving at a lightening pace, and it may be slightly earth-shattering to come to the realization that you’re not performing the way you want to. Interns come in, bright eyes, shoes shined and ready to take on the world, and then…suddenly you feel about as useful as a parka in Florida…in July.
Let’s face it, it’s hard to accept that you’re not perfect, especially when it feels like everyone around you is. (Reality check: they’re not. Whew!)
From there, it’s easy for your insecurities to grow because of an overwhelming feeling of an underwhelming performance. We feel this way despite the truth that most everyone in the office has probably felt the same exact way you do right now.
Real talk, in my first few weeks at Cisco, I struggled with feeling imperfect and I let that mindset psyche me out. It was hard to come from a familiar place of rainbows and unicorns, of confidence and comfort, to suddenly not be able to set up a meeting correctly or use WebEx.
Self-doubt and insecurities grew as the first weeks wore on, and my world came to a screeching halt as my over-achieving ways and reality were at constant war with the parts of myself that I would have liked to keep hidden. The reality that I was not perfect nor ever going to be perfect set in and reality took a baseball bat to my fragile dreams and bright eyes.
My shoes might have been scuffed, but it gave me time to gain some perspective on how imperfection helps reveal things to you that you may not have realized before.
This obviously isn’t an ideal scenario, but psyching myself out needed to stop.
Here are 4 things that I’ve realized so far on my journey:
- You’re not going to be perfect the first time you try something. That’s okay, just don’t try sky diving. Everyone that I’ve admitted imperfection to has told me that it’s okay and completely normal. Really. No one has fired me or made me sit facing the corner alone. Feeling uncomfortable about not being “at your best” can be a sign that you’re out of your comfort zone, and that’s great – especially here at Cisco. Being out of your comfort zone is where growth happens and if an internship isn’t about experience and growing, I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be about. Cisco wants you to grow and to thrive and most times, they’re the ones gently pushing you out of your comfort zone. This means that you might mess up, but at Cisco? That’s fine. Making mistakes enables us to work on how we can prevent ourselves and others from doing the same thing, and work on ways to make the process better.
- Your imperfection can and will enable your team to function the way it’s meant to and will lower the risk of embarrassment later. Asking a question doesn’t mean that people will automatically assume you’re an ignoramus. I repeat, asking a question does not mean that people will assume that you are an ignoramus. Rather, it gives your team the chance to be the team they’re meant to be. A team, your team, THE team makes up for where someone is weak or still learning so that you can be stronger together. My team at Cisco has been there for every question, for every trip up and for all my imperfections and at the same time they’ve inspired me to pick myself up and do better next time. Inflecting your voice to insinuate a question mark doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong, and it means you’re smart enough to find an answer before it’s too late.
- Get out of your own head. Imperfection and nerves are part of the process. Just don’t forget to expect great things afterwards. As I mentioned before, it’s easy to psyche yourself out. Stop. Get back in the game. You’re great and capable and important and smart. Whether getting back in the game means asking a question that you think is dumb, or accidentally spilling coffee, don’t sweat it. Thomas Edison is known for the invention of the lightbulb, and although some report that he “failed” 1,000 times, he claims that the lightbulb was just an invention that had 1,000 steps. So that question you’re afraid to ask? Ask it. It could lead to an innovative change in the status quo. That coffee you spilled? Maybe the shape of the stain forms the next multi-million dollar idea that Cisco has. You never know. Realize that it’s okay to be imperfect, and sometimes, your imperfection might just lead to something great. It’s just another step. Be okay with it. We are all going to mess up. What you do afterwards is what counts.
- It gets better. Relax – you’ve got this. The response and support I’ve gotten from my team, the people that I have worked with as well as my fellow interns have been more than I could have asked for. They’ve not only encouraged me and followed up with me, but have reminded me that my journey isn’t over in the best ways possible. My identity is not “weak”, my name is not “mess-up” and I will be stronger for having survived my mistakes, burn marks on my hand and all. According to Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”
In the days ahead, I will probably feel less than perfect but this time — it’ll be okay. I realize that I’m being stretched, I’m being challenged, and because of that I’m also growing; and it’s never been a better time for that.
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