Laura Giles from ‘It’s Not You, It’s Me’ On How To Get Past Your Perfectionism And ‘Just Do It’

Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine
Published in
12 min readApr 15, 2024


Trade criticism and judgment for . Being able to see what’s “off” or “wrong” is one to the perfectionist’s superpowers. However, it’s also their kryptonite because they often turn it on themselves. Rather than looking at things critically or through the lens of judgment, when we use self-inquiry, learning can be fun.

Many successful people are perfectionists. At the same time, they have the ability to say “Done is Better Than Perfect” and just complete and wrap up a project. What is the best way to overcome the stalling and procrastination that perfectionism causes? How does one overcome the fear of potential critique or the fear of not being successful? In this interview series, called “How To Get Past Your Perfectionism And ‘Just Do It’, we are interviewing successful leaders who can share stories and lessons from their experience about “how to overcome the hesitation caused by perfectionism. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Giles.

Laura Giles, LCSW is a trauma therapist, shadow work coach, and spiritual retreat facilitator whose mission is to leave the world a lovelier place than she found it by helping one person at a time. She’s the founder of It’s Not You, It’s Me.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Thanks for having me. Yes, sure! I was a bookworm and nerd girl in elementary school who always loved learning. I was the one who finished homework before the papers were completely passed out. So, my teacher would send me to the library to get books to read, so I’d be occupied while the other kids were doing classwork.

Although I wouldn’t say I am a perfectionist, I do lean in that direction because learning was fun and easy. I did well. It was expected. I could tell when I was doing well, and I thought everyone could do that.

When I was in my twenties, I realized that that wasn’t the case. I got frustrated when people didn’t do things right, on time, and with excellence the first time. I didn’t understand it. I thought it was a choice. Later, I realized that, like with all things, we’re all on a spectrum.

That’s when I discovered the meaning of, “You can be right, or you can be happy.” I gave up exceptionally high standards and cut others’ slack, too. It’s been a much easier way of living.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Force not the course of the river” is the one that is really speaking to me in this season.

If I say I am going to do something, I do it. If I encounter obstacles, I can push through and make it happen anyway because we have to be dependable, right? But that’s not always the wisest thing.

I have learned that we are partners with the flow of life. When we work with that flow instead of trying to control it, life tends to move much more easily and often in a better direction than the one we actually planned.

Although I am not always aware that I am going against the flow when I am in it, I am a lot better at relaxing, letting things take their course, and even pivoting and changing course completely. Nobody has to go from A to B just because we planned it that way.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I am a trauma therapist, so when I watch movies, it’s hard to take off that hat. I, Tonya brought to life what it’s like to live with a narcissistic parent. This is definitely a contributor to perfectionism, because narcissistic parents can put their kids on a pedestal for something and then turn around and trash them for it like Tonya Harding’s mom did. I have no doubt that Tonya’s drive was due in part to wanting to earn her mom’s praise and escape her criticism. That’s a common backstory for people with perfectionism and a common story for elite performers in any field.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Well, let’s first define “success.” I think “success” in business and other areas of life is about being true to yourself and leading from that truth.

So, the first trait has to be authenticity. My life path has not been traditional at all. I feel very blessed to have had parents who were supportive and accepting. They made it easy for me to choose my own path forward because I never thought, “What would mom/dad say?”

The second one is courage. You can’t have authenticity without courage. It’s easy to follow the well-worn path, and for some, that is the authentic path. But if you’re going to blaze your own trail, you need an abundance of courage. I’ve been through a lot of nontraditional training and life experiences to learn what I know. A lot of people sneered and scoffed along the way, but that didn’t stop me because my need for my own approval is greater than needing someone else’s.

The third is leadership. When I was in my first corporate job, I had the most amazing boss. He worked really well with people with wide differences in temperament, values, and work ethics and brought the best out of all of them. Until I met him, I never thought about how significant it is to have or be a mentor. I never thought about the value of teamwork. I also never envisioned myself as a leader. He changed all that by believing in me. He knew how to make people feel like a valued part of a team, and that has always stayed with me.

And even if we never lead a team, we all have to lead ourselves, so we all need leadership.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Let’s begin with a definition of terms so that each of us and our readers are on the same page. What exactly is a perfectionist? Can you explain?

A perfectionist is someone who must leave no room for error or criticism in what they do. They might agonize over tiny details that don’t matter. They over rehearse. They can get anxious and wound up and put way too much emotion into projects. This drive to get things perfect can mean that they suffer from procrastination because, as they look down the road, they see all the potential ways to fail. It can also mean that they never finish things.

Perfectionists also often carry too much of the load because they don’t trust others to do things up to their standards, so they are stressed out and burdened.

Some of the most amazing artists in the world were perfectionists, like Leonardo DaVinci and Frank Sinatra. Most elite athletes are probably perfectionists as well. Who else would drive themselves so hard?

The premise of this interview series is making the assumption that being a perfectionist is not a positive thing. But presumably, seeking perfection can’t be entirely bad. What are the positive aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?

Sure. Michael Jackson is quoted as saying, “I’m never satisfied with anything. If you’re satisfied with everything, you’re just going to stay at one level, and the world will move ahead.” I agree that settling for “good enough” doesn’t make you excellent, and if you want to stand out in your field, you have to be a head taller than the other guy. Desiring to go just a little further makes that happen.

Prince was also known as a perfectionist who was on a different level. Lots of perfectionists are perfectionists because it’s a coping skill to avoid criticism, but Prince said, “I like constructive criticism from smart people.” That shows that he knows that targeted, useful feedback is GOLD! It makes us better! When we make the switch from “Criticism sucks” to “This juicy bit of advice could put me over the top,” it’s a lot easier to strive for excellence or growth without having the anxiety provoking perfectionism.

Approaching improvement this way is embodying the growth mindset. It’s about becoming excellent by making small, incremental improvements vs. being perfect. So, you get high quality without the stress.

What are the negative aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?

Perfectionists have higher incidents of mental illness like anxiety, depression, social anxiety, self-harming, agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, binge-eating, anorexia, bulimia, hoarding, insomnia, headaches, and suicidality. Those are pretty big negatives!

Many of my clients come in complaining of one or more of those symptoms, but they don’t see perfectionism as a part of it. They think that being a high performer is good! And what do you do when something is working? You do more of it! And that just makes the problem escalate.

Perfectionists can also have problems with relationships because they’ve trained their brains to judge all the time and see what’s wrong. They are internally very critical and think that others are thinking the same way about them. So, they can put on a perfect act when they want to avoid being seen in a negative light.

Being “on” is exhausting. Being social takes a lot of energy, so it’s followed by a crash.

Or some perfectionists have so much anxiety about being around people that they just don’t do it all.

Perfectionists have a hard time laughing at themselves, not taking things too seriously, or playing. When they do things, it’s all or nothing. It’s win or die! They don’t play for fun. They play to win. To go from that to, “Hey, relax! Have fun. It’s okay to make a mistake” can require a lot of reprogramming.

From your experience or perspective, what are some of the common reasons that cause a perfectionist to “get stuck” and not move forward? Can you explain?

Moving forward could entail a loss in status if the perfectionist doesn’t succeed. Lots of people go for the gold, but only one makes it. If you are a contender who lost the prize match, who remembers your name? Maybe nobody. But if you win, your status escalates to star level. So some people won’t want to take that chance of winning because the cost of losing is too high.

Another reason is that the higher you go, the further away you get from everyone else. This is why we say, “It’s lonely at the top.” When you’re an outlier, there aren’t a lot of people who can keep up with you, and that separates you from people. They can’t understand you, so rather than continue to create that distance, some people will stop growing or pursuing the thing that makes them outstanding because intimate connections are more important to them.

What are the five things a perfectionist needs to know to get past their perfectionism and “just do it?”

Trade criticism and judgment for . Being able to see what’s “off” or “wrong” is one to the perfectionist’s superpowers. However, it’s also their kryptonite because they often turn it on themselves. Rather than looking at things critically or through the lens of judgment, when we use self-inquiry, learning can be fun.

For example, “What does this say about me?” is one of my favorite self-inquiry questions. One of my pet peeves is when someone is being passive-aggressive about wanting attention. They aren’t asking for it, and are pretending like they don’t want it, but they are so obvious about it that it sets up a trap where I am a bad guy if I don’t pay attention, or I am manipulated if I do. I may have willingly given my attention, but that option is now stripped away.

Rather than get upset or critical, I make it about me and ask, “What does this say about me?” Why? Because inner peace is about how we respond to situations. If I allow something like this to steal my inner peace, that’s on me. Finding out what it’s all about is useful!

If I responded to this situation by criticizing or judging the other person or myself, all I’d get out of that is a fight. I don’t have to fix the situation or the other person. I just have to deal with my response to this.

No matter what happens, make it a learning experience for you. There are two reasons for this. The first is that most perfectionists are focused on winning, not learning. It’s black and white. You either win or you don’t. If you make everything about learning, you always win. Sometimes you win big, and sometimes it’s a tiny win, but you always win.

The second reason is that this is how people get to the top. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he explains that being incredibly good at anything happens because we do it a lot, and we make incremental improvements with each attempt. You can do that if you are always learning.

Say what? Yep. Let’s say that I get blown off by a guy I was really looking forward to connecting with. What’s the takeaway? Well, it could be that I wasn’t assertive enough. Maybe I was too assertive. Maybe I wasn’t correctly reading his body language. Did I ignore his actual words and replace them with my hopes? Any one of those things could be true.

There is always a lot of information in every interaction that we overlook. By paying objective attention and using those observations as feedback to grow, I learn so much about myself and others that helps me in every aspect of life.

Cultivate flexibility. Perfectionists often have a Plan A, B, and C. They want to have a plan for every possible outcome, and yet life has an element of mystery that can’t be planned for. It’s far more effective to cultivate flexibility, so you can adapt to whatever happens than to plan for many things that don’t happen.

For example, I teach an RO-DBT class that is specifically designed for the problem of over control (perfectionism is over control). At the beginning of every class, we do an improvisational exercise. There are no right answers. There is no way to prepare for it. It’s really silly.

Some people really hate it, but five minutes into it, we’re all cracking up with laughter. We learn through experience that it’s okay to make mistakes, have fun, be unprepared, wing it, and laugh at ourselves.

Once I added that component to the class, the group became more dynamic and people were more open about asking questions about things they didn’t understand or didn’t get right. The participants were more willing to try something that they weren’t confident about, and so their growth skyrocketed.

Practice radical openness. “Radical openness” is the gateway to play. It means that we are open to new information and uncomfortable feedback in order to connect, learn, or discover something about ourselves. Other people see things in us that we can’t see. Sometimes it’s positive and sometimes it’s negative, but having access to a mirror like that is really valuable! Being open allows others to feel that they can share that feedback. It’s a relationship building win/win.

Practicing perfectionism is a way of living in a world that of “supposed to be.” That world doesn’t really exist and trying to live there sets us up for disappointment. Practicing radical openness is a way of living in the world as it is.

Learn from distress. Perfectionistic people often dissociate from their bodies, so they don’t feel their distress. We can only learn from distress if we can feel it. “What is my tight stomach trying to tell me?” is a great way to lean into discomfort. Or you might ask yourself something like, “What am I trying to avoid?”

Our bodies are always communicating our truth to us. Ignoring it makes no sense and leads to mental and physical dis-ease. Make your body your friend and listen to it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I love the world meditation groups. Heartmath, the World Meditation Alliance, and a lot of others host world meditation sessions. They all have the idea that there is power in meditation, and when we meditate together, that power escalates and can positively impact the vibration of the world.

I host Meditation Mondays for the same purpose. So, there is already a movement out there to inspire people to connect, go within, and bask in a space of stillness, peace, and compassion. I can think of no better way than to spend a few minutes every day, as meditation is a form of radical openness.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

Dallas Seavey, who just won his 6th Iditarod race. Wow, talk about action-packed 1,000 mile race! Whew! Dog sledding is such an amazing sport. I’d love to hear about it over lunch.

How can our readers follow you online?

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!