Understanding perfectionism

Reflections from the “You got this!” conference for junior devs.

This weekend I attended the first tech conference I’ve ever seen specifically targeting junior devs, aptly named, You Got This!

The event focuses on wellbeing, rather than technical content. This is refreshing and given I’m two weeks into my first junior dev role, definitely came at the right time.

I wasn’t expecting to take a lot away from the event. I mean, I’m a balanced person right? I’ve had loads of counselling, done hours of meditation and been diary writing for decades. What can they teach me about myself that I don’t already know?

Ha! The very first talk was a huge lightbulb moment for me. The amazing Jo Franchetti spoke about perfectionism and this sounded all too familiar.

Perfectionism is the drive to attempt to achieve unattainable ideals or unrealistic goals @ThisisJoFrank

It was refreshing to hear someone describe what I’ve been struggling with pretty much since I can remember. Key traits such as, setting impossible standards and self criticism are typical of perfectionists. When Jo said that self criticism is generally a precursor to depression, this made so much sense given my experience of this.

Jo said that perfectionism can lead to anxiety, overwork and stress. For me this manifests itself in low moods and broken sleep.

I recently started reading “This too will pass”, the story of a successful partner in a city law firm breaking down due to overwork. He says that he didn’t realise he “had a choice”, even when he was literally working non-stop and not spending quality time with his wife and three children, let alone personal time for himself.

Amazing read about mental ill health

I can relate to this. I remember meeting someone early in my career who told me “he would never choose a job which meant he had to work beyond 5pm”. I was completely shocked. And it shocked me that I was shocked. The point is I had never realised that I had a choice. Free time? Pah! Who gets to choose free time? It was sad that I had not realised it was up to me to decide.

Now I know that remote and flexible work is the absolute minimum for any job I will take. Nevertheless, I’m still on a journey to limit the damage my inner-critic can cause without clear boundaries in place.

Scheduling clear non-working time has really helped me.

Jo says that both patience and time are required, hearing and identifying the critic’s voice is a great step in the right direction. She advised setting realistic goals and schedules. Clear work and rest hours are important so you don’t feel guilty.

I have resorted to deep meditation before sleeping in order to get the rest I need overnight. Given I have a baby at home this doesn’t always work out, but I’m doing the best I can and that’s all that matters.

Sahaja Yoga meditation has really helped me manage stress.

Since listening to Jo’s talk, I’ve decided to strictly not work on weekends. My husband was really surprised when I said on Sunday that I just wanted to relax instead of code. It felt good to take a day for myself and I felt refuelled because of it.

@Saschawolf gave a brilliant talk on the fact that we are not just valuable because of our coding ability, but that we are greater than the sum of our parts. This reminded me that I can’t weigh my value just by examining my technical ability or even work output.

He highlighted some really interesting research that Google conducted to find out what makes a successful team. What was the most important? Not how many PhDs were in the team, or their IQ levels, but psychological safety:

Psychological safety refers to an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk or a belief that a team is safe for risk taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea. Google

I’m looking forward to sharing this amazing insight with my colleagues. Who knew that just being open and honest with those around us and creating safe spaces can have such an impact on our output.

Overall, You Got this! was an amazing conference and I really can’t wait for the next one! Thank you to the conference organisers, speakers and everyone who made the event possible.