Friends, today is the day! The video of my 4-minute TEDxBirminghamSalon talk, Perfectionism Doesn’t Protect Us, is now live on the TEDx Talks Youtube channel.

I must admit, I’m nervous about sending it out. It was one thing to get up in front of a hundred people and give this talk; it’s another thing to email it to all of you.

But then I remember: you were the ones who helped me to find the courage to give this talk in the first place. You were the ones who encouraged me to tell the truth about my struggles with perfectionism … because as it turns out, they’re our struggles.

So I’m taking a deep breath and sending this out in faith.

Thank you in advance for your views and shares. Also, I should mention that the first 24-48 hours are a critical time frame when it comes to sharing this video.

As the event organizer told me, “The goal is to drive as many views as possible in the first 24-48 hours, as that affects the YouTube algorithm for how the video will be recommended to other users.”

So if it speaks to you, please share it sooner rather than later. Again, thank you for doing so; I trust that this video will go out to exactly the right people at exactly the right time.

Without further ado … here’s Perfectionism doesn’t protect us!

See below for the full text of the talk – it’s not an exact transcription, but it’s what I memorized, so it’s pretty close.

Perfectionism Doesn’t Protect Us

Recently I received a message from the moderator of a Facebook group. It read: “Caroline McGraw, please inbox me … I need to ask you something.”

Now, that was terrifying. I’m a recovering perfectionist, scared of getting in trouble. Perfectionism and I go way back … back to first grade.

I was a good student, but one day, my teacher returned my paper with “See Me” written in red ink.

Getting a “See Me” meant lining up by the teacher’s desk and waiting to talk to her privately … in front of everyone. For a girl like me, this was not a good system.

I thought a “See Me” meant that I’d screwed up. At six years old, I couldn’t handle that … nor could I hide that I couldn’t handle that.

When my turn came, my teacher took one look at me and said, “Caroline, what’s wrong?”

I just handed her my paper and waited for the death blow. But she said I’d done a great job, and she just wanted to tell me that in person.

Oh, and that Facebook message? The moderator wanted to invite me to speak at an event.

All that fear. All that worry. All for nothing.

Perfectionists like me believe that, if we try hard enough, we can avoid feeling so vulnerable. In fact, Anne Lamott says that perfectionism “is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die.”

She’s talking about physical death, but her point also applies to the metaphorical death I experienced in first grade: the death of the perfect student image I’d constructed.

But when I stood in the ‘See Me’ line, I learned that I could survive not being perfect. I learned that the human spirit is a phoenix, able to rise from terrible ashes.

Here’s the bad news about perfectionism: it doesn’t protect us. We’re vulnerable no matter how well we perform. The good news is, we’re stronger than we know. And our mistakes allow us to see that. They reveal our true selves, which endure when our false selves die.

Mistakes help perfectionists live into the secret of life, as defined by Eckhart Tolle: “… to die before you die – and find that there is no death.”

So the next time you start to panic about opening an email or meeting with a teacher … take a deep breath. Remember that this is just another opportunity to learn, and to let go.

We’re only human; we’re not perfect. But we are strong, we are tenacious, and we are meant to rise again.

Thank you.


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