The Line - Self Leadership - Development

Practice Over Perfection

Lean into hard conversations and be committed to repair

by Courtney Simmons | March 2024

If I had a magic wand, I would take away the commitment we have to avoid mistakes at all costs.

It makes sense that mistakes make us feel yucky and horrible. The brain activates pain centers for ego pain similar to actual physical pain. We are all familiar with that “oh shit” reaction that happens and makes us want to crawl into a hole never to be heard from again or prompts the most maladaptive of our natural fight-flight-freeze response when we screw up. For me, that’s the worst when I unintentionally cause harm to others.

In my experience as a DEI practitioner and leader, I hear most consistently (particularly in a training): “I’m just afraid I’m going to make a mistake”. Or worse: “People don’t want to be corrected because it makes them shut down.”


Practicing Imperfection & Growth


Actually, that’s the sentiment I would wave a magic wand for: No longer is it an option to shut down when we realize that we could have shown up differently for someone. We will be passionate about hearing feedback that will help us show up better for others AND we will offer feedback in a loving and kind way. Let it be so.

If we could all agree that (most) people don’t get out of bed thinking that they can’t wait to ruin someone’s day, I think we’d be better off. If we could channel Brené Brown’s suggestion – “All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be” – perhaps we could better show up for one another and allow the uncomfortable learning that leads to new insight and better relationships.

My answer to “I’m just afraid I’m going to make a mistake” is this:

You will.

In interpersonal reactions, we are limited by our own perspectives. We see the world mostly in the way we’ve experienced it, and with the lens of our own intersecting identities. Inevitably, our short-sightedness will lead to assumptions that lead to mistakes, gaffs, and unintentional harm.

Instead of being afraid of making mistakes, and avoiding discomfort at all costs, let’s commit to practice over perfection. Let’s commit to learning and growth and attempting to do that respectfully.

Intentional Repair

When someone tells us when we fall short for them, don’t shut down. Instead:

1) Acknowledge & thank them for helping you see the impact of your behaviors

    • “Oh yeah, while that wasn’t my intent, I can see I had a negative impact on you”
    • “Thanks for helping me understand that”

2) Apologize (if you mean it. Hopefully you mean it, what kind of asshole doesn’t feel regret when they hurt someone?)

    • “I am sorry for hurting you”
    • “Gosh, I want to do better for others. I wasn’t aware of that experience before”

3) Commit to failing forward:

    • “Thanks for letting me know how I could show up differently for you”
    • “I would love to hear, if you’re willing to share what I could do differently for you”
    • “How can I repair this with you or with the others” (eg: is it necessary to address a broader group or apologize publicly)
    • “I will do more research and reading on my own to learn about this experience. It’s so unfamiliar to me, and I’d like to know more”

Importantly, be sure to avoid:

    • Making it the work of the person you’ve hurt to educate you. If they offer suggestions, great. But don’t ask them to be your teacher.
    • Being overly defensive.
    • Even if your intent wasn’t to cause harm, the impact remains. It’s okay to say “oh man! I didn’t mean that”, but don’t stay there. Be sure to acknowledge impact – that’s most important. “But I can see how my intentions fell short of your lived experience, I’m so regretful of that.”

In the end, we might hurt one another, but with curiosity, self-reflection and a commitment to practicing instead of being and expecting perfection, we can forge stronger, more culturally diverse connections.


Dive Deeper

Are you a leader looking to incorporate DEI work into your organization? Check out Courtney’s work at Inclusive Insight Group, she offers strategy development, speaking engagements, facilitation, trainings and a DEI review.

Hungry for more learning? Here’s more from Courtney:

Meet Courtney Simmons

Courtney (she/her) has led in corporate spaces for nearly 20 years, and has experienced the implicit and explicit ways we communicate that people don’t “fit in.” Her dedication and passion for transforming systems to make requisite changes for true inclusion, equity, and belonging are evident at the core of her being.

Courtney is skilled in co-creation, design, and facilitation of DEI strategy, implementation, and learning with a unique blend of candor, vulnerability, and expertise. Having served in diverse corporate spaces spanning across North America, from Fortune500 companies to craft brewing and non-profit organizations, she helps leaders and teams grow spaces of equity, inclusion, and belonging. Courtney founded Inclusive Insight Group in 2023 to support the relentless pursuit of joy, fulfillment, and success one inclusive insight at a time.

1 Comment

  1. Liz Stegman

    Wonderful suggestions. Great insight. Thanks for the learning lesson!


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