Vitale Buford, The Imperfectionist, brings her perfectionism training and concepts to life in a fun and relatable way, empowering teams and companies to transform the way they work, produce, and relate. A change agent transforming organizations, groups, and individuals, Vitale is an iPEC-certified executive coach, trainer, international speaker, and author.
Featured in The New York Times, she is the author of the book, Addicted to Perfect, detailing her 10-year struggle with Adderall and perfectionism. Her experience includes more than a decade working in marketing and business development for a variety of industries and professional service organizations. She combines her personal experience, professional education and training, and her specialized healing techniques together to create a unique coaching system – one that gets to the root of the issue to bring about lasting and real change.
Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap Podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. Another great show on today in the education bucket. I want to welcome Vitale Buford. She’s an Executive Coach and Author. Welcome to the show.
Vitale: Awesome. Thank you for having me.
Lucas: This is a very important topic because you’ve been featured in the New York Times. You’re an author of a book called Addicted to Perfect, where you detail out your 10-year, struggle with Adderall and perfectionism, but Vitale, why is this a problem in our leadership culture?
Vitale: Well, because perfectionism is something we don’t talk about. Society tells us that we need to be perfect in order to be successful, connect all of those things. That’s actually the thing that’s preventing us from being successful from connecting, from living a fulfilling life. And so that’s why it’s my life. My life’s mission to turn all perfectionist into recovering perfectionists.
Lucas: So obviously this is a very near and dear topic to you. You’ve written this book. I mean, this is a very sensitive issue where most people probably don’t want to even recognize this as some sort of a weakness. Seems like there’s a little, even bit of a paradox here where a pet perfectionism has seemed like something that is strived for, right? People don’t consider that to be a weakness, but you’ve stepped out and covered this topic. Are the outcomes in the conversations that you’ve had with people been surprising to you, the number of people that have said, you know, because you started the conversation that they’ve been drawn in to say, hey, you know what? I think I struggle with this too.
Vitale: Yeah. I think a lot of people didn’t know the full scope of what perfectionism is, how much they it’s externally motivated and how we, as humans can be so externally motivated in terms of validation and whatever it is, I’m sure we’ll get into it. But yeah, people tend to be, I mean, and that’s why I am an educator educating people about this because once they can get that, that “ah ha” moment of what perfectionism is and the different symptoms, then they have a framework for it.
Josh: So I want to unpack this a little bit because, you know, I’m the first time I’d talked to you and I saw this topic. I’m like, I’m no perfectionist. And I’m like, I don’t have a problem with this. I’m far from perfectionist, but you kind of threw out this stat that 97% of people struggle with some form of perfectionism, which, you know, my antenna went up a little bit and I’m like, wow, that’s, that’s a big number. I would like to think I’m in that 3%. Probably not. But then you say the phrase some form, what does that even mean? Like unpack that a bit.
Vitale: Yeah. So some form is you can either be an extremely like strict perfectionist, like I am. Which is basically that every area of your life is ruled. I mean, it no longer rules my life, but that’s the kind of perfectionist I was. Every single area of my life is ruled by perfectionism. My relationships, my health, my career, how I led others, how I led myself. And then there are people who just rebel with some pieces, you know, it’s more of a mild perfectionism. So maybe someone just procrastinates in terms of their career, but they don’t deal with all the other things. And so there are varying degrees of perfectionism and if you’re anything like me, it was severe. And so it’s about identifying that.
Josh: So, you know, like anything, any problem in our lives, whether that be a health issue or maybe just a characteristic, something that we want to improve in a lot of times, it’s coming to the point of recognizing there is a problem. And usually there’s symptoms associated with that maybe they’re underlying and we’ve dealt with them for so long. They’re so part of us that we don’t even know it. Sometimes it helps to have other people point these out to us. I thought it was really enlightening when you started going into some of the symptoms. So we can practice a little bit of self-awareness and think, gosh, you know, evaluate myself. Do I have these kinds of tendencies? Can you talk to our audience a little bit about some of the symptoms that might point towards a struggle with perfectionism?
Vitale: Yeah. And definitely awareness is that first step, that curiosity and being really curious about why you do the things you do, why you think the things you think, and then being open to changing them. But the main symptoms of perfectionism, first of all, perfectionism is externally motivated, right? It’s when we use everything outside of ourselves to validate our self-worth right. It’s when we outsource our self-worth, our decision-making, our intuition to other people and allowing really other people to be the expert of us instead of us being the expert of us in different ways. But some of the main symptoms of perfectionism include constantly seeking external validation, either in your personal life or professional life. It’s when you’re chronically multitasking, that workaholism, when you struggle to make a decision. So you stay stuck in indecision or you make a decision and then you go back and forth. Do I do the right thing? I should have done that. I made a bad mistake, but that, that ruminating in your head, those obsessive thoughts. It’s when you procrastinate, right? We procrastinate because we need all the perfect information to make a decision or move forward, or we procrastinate because we’re afraid when we start that project, it won’t be perfect enough.
And then we waste all that time in our heads thinking about it. It’s also when we avoid difficult conversations because we can’t control other people. And so we’ll avoid having that difficult conversation with a colleague, oh, it’ll take care of itself or we’ll bulldoze the conversation because as perfectionists as we either avoid that slow perfectionism, or we just bulldoze our way through it to get it off our checklist. I don’t want to think through this conversation. So let me just go ahead and have it both ways. There’s typically not the best outcome.
Also it leads to chronic stress, anxiety, overwhelm, burnout. And so those are some of the main symptoms. But it shows up too in how we lead others, right. In our own leadership, right. We take on too many projects. We never say “no,” because we’re afraid that if we say no to something, we’ll become irrelevant, which is a form of control. I’ve got to say “yes” to all of these things, even though we know our project list is 20 pages long, or we don’t delegate because we don’t trust someone to do it as well as us, or we don’t know how to delegate. We’re constantly micromanaging. We don’t have those conversations cause difficult conversations are actually opportunities for connection. So we’re not leading our team effectively because for me, my philosophy on all leadership is that the way we lead others is the way we lead ourselves. And so it starts with us like we have to look within and when we do the work within we’re then able to be better leaders.
Josh: Oh wow. So I know that we could have a long conversation about this and unpack a ton of probably painful examples of mine and Lucas’ that we could throw out there as you know, really sympathizing with our audience, because with this large of numbers, I’m sure that the majority of our audience falls within that 97%. And we’re all struggling with different aspects of this at varying degrees. So becoming aware, well let’s say now we want to start talking about personal, getting on the road to recovery, so to speak, what are some of those steps? And then also, maybe you could look at this from an organizational standpoint, because I know we have a huge group of listeners that are either leading a large group of people at a senior community level, or they’re at a regional, over a lot of other leaders or they’re at corporate offices. The C-suites the owners that literally are impacting hundreds, if not thousands of people on a daily basis. I’m really interested in, as you know, when we begin to change ourselves, that obviously positively can impact the lives of thousands of others. But when you go in as a coach, are there things that you see that are chronic symptoms within organization’s systems and things that we put in place thinking that these are great systems of leadership, but maybe those are automatically setting our organizations up for a bad culture and environment that, allows this perfectionism to be pervasive within the organization.
Vitale: Yeah, I think for me like the four keys to successful leadership and successful workplaces are vulnerability, trust, accountability, and communication. And so when I’m teaching leadership and I’m teaching how to overcome your perfectionism in terms of how you lead others is always in the vein of those four areas because perfectionism erodes, trust, you know, perfectionism, erodes, vulnerability, and all the other things, and trust is critical for any successful. It’s not a, it’s not a nice to have. It is a must have. And honestly, trust is one of your biggest economic drivers, but that perfectionism erodes trust because people aren’t having those difficult conversations, people aren’t giving feedback because they’re afraid or they’re bulldozing their way through feedback. You know, people aren’t speaking up in meetings because they don’t feel safe. You know, if I say this as someone going to shut me down, and so we may have those, but it’s looking at, do we really have the pieces for vulnerability and not fake vulnerability, right?
We say, we want vulnerability, but fake vulnerability is actually worse than no vulnerability. So do you have space for vulnerability? Are you creating that as a leader and really, you know, fostering that with your team and then trust, right? Are you doing things to intentional and all that comes down to being intentional, right?
Relationships don’t just happen overnight. They don’t just nurture themselves. And as perfectionists, we get in our heads about workaholism and we’re not being intentional, we’re just, you know, going through the motions, there’s so many other different speak you know, pieces of this, but you know, how do you build trust intentionally? And so I teach the different tools for that and how perfectionism gets in the way. And same thing with accountability. A lot of people don’t know how to follow through. We have a difficult conversation, but then we miss the follow through like, well, I checked that off my list. I don’t want, you know, it’s the same thing with boundaries, right?
The first conversation about a boundary is hard, but the most important part is enforcing it. And then you’ve got communication. What are we doing intentionally to prepare for conversations, to look at our part in the conversation and also have compassion for the other person, really bringing the humanness back into communication. And that’s an overview, but those are the four pieces that I think are the most critical.
Josh: One of the things I love about having you on the show, so this is not necessarily, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, but this is not necessarily something you went to college, university for, got a master’s degree in counseling and all this, and then use determined, oh, my topic is going to be perfectionism because I did a study and found out this is an issue. Being vulnerable, you’ve put yourself out there and said, hey, you know, I’m going to coach and I’m going to help others with this because this is something that I have struggled with, do struggle with, for our listeners that don’t know you yet, give us a little bit into your why. Like, where was your struggle? And, and why, why are you where you are today?
Vitale: Yeah. And you know, I’m a big believer that we teach the things that we need most. And so when I’m teaching this, I’m like, I’m here with you. And I don’t teach anything that I’ve never gone through myself. It’s not like, oh, I read a book and I hear that works. It’s like, no and that drives me to do really hard stuff, really hard conversations and get really uncomfortable. But I grew up in a household where I thought I needed to be perfect to be loved, which was really been really high achieving. Because when I got good grades, that’s when my parents would given me that emotional touch point. And so there’s a lot of emotional unavailability in my household. And so to get good grades equaled love. And so I quickly learned, oh, all these external things are what gave me worth. A lot of us, you know, perfectionism is really created. It’s a coping mechanism to get love and feel worthy as children. And so, you know, that served me and then I get into college and I’m introduced to Adderall and I had stayed away from all other drugs and stuff because addiction runs in my family. But Adderall quickly became the perfect drug for me and allowed me to work, you know, 28-hour days and work two jobs and take a full course load. And so that started at 10-year addiction for me. And I was extremely successful on the outside. I was leading huge, you know, marketing departments at large law firms. We were doing a lot of things. And of course I’m unaware that this is perfectionism. Like I’m reflecting back on the back of this production. And I had no idea this was, this was it.
And so I got sober seven years ago, and then sort of doing the inner work. And as I wrote my book in 2019, I was like, oh my god, no, one’s talking about perfectionism. And wow, like it shows up in every area of my life and this is how it shows up. And I was like, people don’t need to suffer this way. And Adderall addiction was just a severe symptom for me. You don’t need to have anything to do with Adderall for perfectionism to impact you and hold you back. But for me, it personally has held me back and it held me back in my leadership. When I look back literally, I remember having an executive coach call me out. This was like, I was not sober during this time. I was just leading a high level team and he looked at me and he goes, are you critical of your team? And I was not taking any feedback at this point. Like now I’m perfect. I’m a perfect leader. Like, what are you talking about? You’re getting the feedback. I’m critical of my team. You’ve seen me interact with them for five minutes. And then he said, this phrase, he’s like, no, you’re critical of your team because you’re critical of yourself. And I was like, oh. So I experienced it. I’m like, of course, of course, like me as a perfectionist, if that’s the way I’m living, of course that’s going to translate into how I lead.
Josh: Well, it’s such an interesting story and you know, not to chase the rabbit of the Adderall addiction, but I do believe because of so many personal relationships I have had with people that have struggled with that, that are in, even in healthcare, in particular, I don’t have any statistics to support it, but just personal experiences and people that I know of, I think the drive to do more, to be more, it does lead a lot of people down that pathway and why it’s so readily available, that’s a whole other conversation. But you know, this, this I think is a wake-up call probably for a lot of our listeners, because a lot of the things that we hold on to, and actually, we’re kind of proud of like, I’m a high achiever and I’m this and I’m that. And we kind of keep our shoulders up that, you know, our, our shoulders are heavy. Like we can carry a heavy load and things like that when a lot of times those things, even in my own life, I realize, wow, that some of that’s kind of an unhealthy environment I’ve created for myself and maybe that’s bleeding into the teams that I lead.
I think for our listeners, I hope that it’s a little antenna that goes up and realize that just because maybe that’s the pathway we’re on. Maybe we are in that rut much like you, the encouragement is there’s a way to combat that. There’s a way to change and there’s a way to improve and there’s a way to be healthy in our leadership. So thank you for being vulnerable and sharing that story with us.
Vitale: Of course. And for me too, like there’s so much success, like as perfectionist where like, well, you know, people kind of, Vitale, like I’m achieving a substantial amount of success under the guise of perfectionism. Why would I want to do anything different? I’m like, there is so much more available to you that you have blocked yourself off from like truly perfectionism stifles your creativity and creativity is one of the most critical pieces of leadership. Being able to come up with new solutions, being creative, and you may be creative right now, but when you remove all of those unrealistic expectations and your indecision and all the obsessive thoughts in your head, you open your world up to even bigger space of possibility and creativity. And so as a leader for me, I’m like, I got more to accomplish on this earth. I’ve got a bigger impact to make. Like, I don’t have time. I need to, oh know, I gotta let go of the perfectionism. And so there’s so more success and you can achieve it without all of the perfectionism. And so it’s that and more success that really is waiting for everyone. And that in itself should be the motivation to let it go.
Josh: So, Lucas, what I’m hearing is for 97% of us that are listening to this, and we think that we’ve got it going on, that there is more. So much more to unpack here, or, you know, what do you think about this?
Lucas: I think it’s incredible. I think failure is actually a gift. If you want to be successful, the path is riddled with failures. That’s how you get there. If you’re on the path of perfection, there’s just to your point, you’re missing so much. You’re really blinded by a lane that you’ve created that is never going to get you where you need to get to, because course correction and failures is a part of life and it’s a necessary ingredient to success. There’s no way around it.
Vitale: Oh yeah. Failure is a sign that you’re succeeding. Keep going.
Lucas: Exactly. Exactly. Obviously we don’t want to stay in failure. That’s not the goal. It’s how you deal with it. Let’s give one final word to, let’s just talk about that, that person that’s in your shoes, that’s struggling with this right now. They’re driving, they’re exercising, walking the dog, and they’re like, you know, they’ve kind of gone on this journey with us for a few minutes here. What would be your final words to that person?
Vitale: Yeah. So one of my favorite quotes is that “your dreams were given to you for a reason.” And that means you have the power to make them happen. None of our dreams that we were given, none of the ideas that come up in our head are happenstance, they were given to each of us. And we question it, like, oh, should I really write that book? Can I do that? Can I start that business? Can I find my soulmate? I mean, all sorts of goals, whether it’s renovating your kitchen, starting a business, starting another business, starting a podcast, writing a book, whatever it is. If you’re given that dream and that goal for a reason, and it means you have the power to make it happen, but perfectionism is keeping you from your goals and your dreams. And so you can overcome it. And anything is possible for you. It’s like what I’m so passionate about. You let go of that and anything…all of your dreams are available to you.
Lucas: Vitale Buford, Coach, author, on the topic of perfectionism, fantastic conversation.
Vitale: Thank you so much for spending time with us this morning for having me.
Lucas: We’ll make sure that we connect all of your information. Our show notes, go to BTGvoice.com for all of our episodes, including this one, where you can the transcripts and look at the videos and hear the audio. Thanks for watching and listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.