We were in Utah for a family vacation preparing to hike up 1,000 feet over the next mile to reach a cave. It was the perfect family adventure.
But there was one thing I didn’t tell my family. While I knew I could make it to the cave, I was not confident I would be able to make the trek back down the mountain.
Over the past few months, I’d noticed a rapid deterioration in my legs. Walking downhill initiated uncontrollable shaking in my legs.
But I was going to climb this mountain.
The skies were clear. The weather was perfect. I started off strong even though I was out of shape. My teenage children were easily sprinting ahead, but I was proud of my progress. Once at the top, we toured the cave. It was amazing. Nature’s unrivaled beauty was on full display. It was worth the climb.
As we prepared our descent, I told my family to run on ahead. I’d told them I’d be slow and didn’t want to hold them back. That I’d meet them at the bottom.
But, I really just didn’t want them to see how much I was going to struggle.
I hugged the side of the mountain to keep from falling down. Every couple of steps I had to pause for my legs to quit shaking. I had the mountain to myself. It was fitting. The lonely journey to an answer was underway.
Step. Step. Pause. Let the shaking subside. Step. Step. Pause.
I looked out over the valley. Contrasting rocks in vibrant colors accented the green of the gently swaying pine trees.
A rogue thought caught me off guard. I am never going to take a journey like this again.
I broke down in tears.
And as I sobbed uncontrollably, I realized what had been holding me back. I had spent a lifetime trying to be perfect. I couldn’t avoid it any longer. I clearly was not perfect.
That day I realized that striving for—more like obsessing over—perfection had robbed me of business success and personal victory time and again. It was my breakthrough moment. I realized I was more concerned about keeping the people I loved from seeing my imperfection than getting safely down the mountain, more than enjoying the hike with them.
I didn’t realize this hike would just be the beginning of many new mountains to climb.
Two weeks later, I was diagnosed with Primary Lateral Sclerosis. It is the non-fatal version of ALS also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Basically, my upper-motor neurons are slowly losing communication with my muscles.
It is a challenge for me to do many things today. Not only has it impacted my ability to walk—I use walking sticks—but it has also impacted my tongue. I do not speak as well as I used too. I’ve forced myself to overcome my need for perfection.
Maybe you already know you are a perfectionist. Maybe you think it helps you. But there is a fine line between striving for perfection and letting attempts at perfection hold you back.
Maybe you don’t see yourself as a perfectionist. I never did. I wasn’t obsessive about every detail of my life. I didn’t look or dress like the my picture of a perfectionist. But too often, I let my unrealistic picture of the ideal sabotage opportunities.
If this is you, if any part of my story resonates, you’re not the only one. Many business leaders are closet perfectionists. Somewhere along the line, we shifted from seeking excellence to fearing failure above all. If that’s you, you’ve come to the right place.