144. The Productive Perfectionist with Kathryn Mayer

When you hear the word “perfectionist”, what comes to mind? Maybe you think of yourself?

Typically, it’s someone who holds themselves to impossibly and unachievably high standards, driven by fear of real or imagined consequences if they don’t get it (whatever “it” is) exactly right.

Because perfect is rarely possible, they never “measure up,” and they get discouraged and burn out. They’ve given away all their f**ks and feel like they never got any results or recognition for all their work, so they stop caring altogether.

To say the least, that makes them unproductive – which is exactly what Kathryn Mayer is here to change.

Kathryn was raised by a father who was a neurologist and a professor who taught her that your identity comes from the work you do and a homemaker mother who passed on perfectionism – that you have to work hard and if you’re going to do something, you must do it well or not at all.

As a child, Kathryn tried ballet and wasn’t good at it, then gymnastics which didn’t work out because she was too tall. Then she discovered tennis, which she enjoyed and showed real aptitude for. So, her mother put Kathryn in private lessons and then, because they were spending money on the lessons, she had to compete in tournaments.

Until she was 14, she did well in singles tournaments due to her height advantage over opponents her age, but then the other girls caught up in height. So, she switched to doubles, which she was also good at, but she lost her joy for tennis and quit.

When Kathryn went to college, she was Dean’s List level, but she graduated with no idea what to do as a career! So she hired a career coach, which began a three-year process of discovery that included mapping out a forty (yes, four-oh) year plan. Meanwhile, she went through five careers by the time she was 26 before landing what she thought would be her dream job in New York City.

The following years would see her try more careers, plus take a biking vacation with her husband to Cambodia. It was that trip where it struck her that it was actually okay if she rode in the van instead of fighting to ride her bike over the bad roads. It was okay to not do the thing she thought she was “supposed” to do.

Back home, she was “shoulding” all over herself, her career, and her life – which reminds me of the conversation back in episode 2 with Dara Goldberg where we talked about “shedding the shoulds.”

Finally, she had a boss who told her to lighten up because she was constantly frustrated. When his message didn’t get through, he pulled her aside and asked her a curious question: “Why don’t you try going to clown school?”

In a moment, when you meet Kathryn, you’ll see how all these threads came together and inspired her to mesh productivity with perfectionism. If you feel like you’re just not hacking it, this show is for you.

Kathryn’s hype song is “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross.

Resources:

Also, see our interview with Wendy Cocke, called “It Seemed Normal… But It Really Wasn’t”.

Invitation from Lori:

Now, if like Kathryn, it feels like things have come to a standstill because nothing you do is ever good enough, the 5 Easy Ways to Start Living The Sabbatical Life guide could be the catalyst that unleashes your productivity.

Once you read it, you’ll

✅ Discover a counter-intuitive approach to making intentional changes in mindset and lifestyle.

✅ Learn how to own your feelings and your struggles so you can address them.

✅ Find out how to face fears, step out of your comfort zone, and rewire your beliefs.

It’s only 7 pages, so it won’t take you long to get through. What’s really awesome is you don’t have to do any of it perfectly; you don’t even have to do the steps in order. All you have to do is find your personal starting point and jump right in!

When you’re ready to say F*ck Being Fine, this guide is the place to start. Giving away your last f*ck means you’re free from worrying about being imperfect.

Go to https://zenrabbit.com right now to download it for free.

Now let’s meet Kathryn. We better give her a hand because, like clowns do, she just tripped! I can’t see how, because her pants are too short. But let’s find out!

Transcript

Lori: Hello, and welcome to FINE is a 4-Letter Word. My guest this week, Kathryn Mayer. Welcome to the show.

Kathryn: Thank you so much. I’m thrilled to be here. Thanks for having me.

Lori: I am thrilled to have you and I am thankful to Wendy Cocke, a past guest, for introducing us.

Kathryn: Me, too. Wendy is awesome. She’s a rock star.

Lori: She absolutely is. I have to put a link to her show in the show notes for this so people can go back and listen. I love starting the show with this question, and it is what were the values and beliefs that you were raised with that contributed to you becoming who you are?

Kathryn: I think that’s where this idea of perfectionism started, right? Of course, you have to blame your mother.

Lori: Right. She gets blamed for everything.

Kathryn: Full blame, full blame. Really, probably the top three were you’ve got to work hard, you’ve got to do things well. If you’re going to do something, do it well. Otherwise, it’s not worth it. Work is really where your identity comes from. That I would blame to my father.

Lori: Wow, that is some challenging… I could see how that would create the issues that we’re going to get into talking about. It’s not uncommon that I hear so many people were raised with the value that hard work is important. I find it particularly interesting for you, though, that the do well or it’s not worth doing.

Kathryn: Yes, that was a very strong value that my mother taught us. And I think the good of that is she had five children, I’m the oldest of five. And she believed that the key was to find something that everybody could be good at. So I tried a lot of things. I was tall, I tried ballet, I was the worst dancer ever. I could skip backwards. That was my highlight. I tried gymnastics, my legs were too long. People were like, “Oh, no, no, no.” I was a disaster.

Then I found tennis. Luckily, at the time where I lived, I grew up in Baltimore, tennis was hot. So I started playing and I was immediately good at. So my mother was like, “Okay. So tennis is going to be your thing. That means you have to take lessons regularly. I also want you to play tournaments.” Because if we’re going to spend money on lessons, because there weren’t a lot of resources, and I could only take half hour lessons, but it was worth it to spend money on a half hour private lesson versus doing group lessons because she thought you’ll get better faster. “Then if you’re going to spend money on that, I want you to play tournaments because that will test and help you to continue to grow.”

Lori: Okay. So if you’re going to play, this is not just for fun.

Kathryn: No. This is not just for fun. No, that’s not what this is about. No. If you want to do other things for fun, fine. Play tag, play badminton. But if you’re going to do this thing, tennis, but you want to be good at. This is to be good at it.

Lori: Okay. How did that develop? Did you become good at it? Were you in tournaments?

Kathryn: Yes, I won tournaments. I started winning tournaments right away, which was super fun, of course, until I hit like 13 or 14, when things start to become more serious. The big challenge for me is I had won a lot of tournaments because I was tall and my coach was like, “Run to the net, you’ll scare the girls. You’re like six inches taller than most of them.” So that worked well until you get to 13-14, then they caught up. My coach is like, “We’re going to have to change your strategy.”

In my infinite wisdom of 13 and 14, I thought, “Well, why would I want to do that? I’m winning. What do I know?” Of course, I didn’t listen to that coach because winning really had become my identity. And I didn’t know enough to understand that the coach, of course, was right. What really pains me is that I didn’t really have the tools then to transition and say, “Oh, well, now what?” My singles career sort of came to a standstill. It really didn’t continue. I decided to play doubles because the serving and volleying the skills that I’ve learned was more valuable there. So I became a really good doubles player, but my joy for the sport really kind of went down a fair amount.

Lori: You hear that a lot about professional athletes. They played when they were in high school or college. They played for fun or it was fun to play. And then once they become professional, it’s not. They’re playing for money, and it’s not really as fun.

Kathryn: Yes. This was fun until… then it became winning. And then winning became my identity. I didn’t have the tools, and sports psychology wasn’t even a thing then to help me realize I started having performance anxiety of like if I was supposed to win, I get nervous because what if I lose? I didn’t know how to manage it. So that’s when it really became not fun anymore.

Lori: You see that kind of in business, too. When people start overthinking and thinking, “What if I screw this up?” and then that’s the predominant thought in your head. Then, of course, that’s what you do because that’s where your focus is. If you’re looking in that direction, that’s the direction you’re going to go. Then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’m always amazed—I’m a college football fan. When they throw an interception, and then they have to come back in and go through another play, they have to erase that from their head and go, “All right, this is a totally new play. It doesn’t matter what happened five seconds ago.” It’s the same really in any sport and in life as well. Not that you don’t learn from your mistakes, right? But how do you not let that hold you down and back from the next play?

Kathryn: It’s very difficult. There are sports psychology tools which I learned much later in life. But at that stage in life, no. I had no tools. The title of your show, I felt fine. I wasn’t. I didn’t know how to be vulnerable. So I was like, “Oh, well, I guess I’m fine. I’ll just play doubles. I’ll add that.” As opposed to just saying, “I have no clue how to deal with this.”

Lori: Right. I mean, how could you at that age for one thing? Because even as adults, people don’t know how to change their identity.

Kathryn: Right. I had no idea how to change my identity and I didn’t know what had become.

Lori: How did you evolve? What was the relationship then with your mother if your purpose was to excel and you weren’t excelling anymore?

Kathryn: The quirky thing about my mother is she actually didn’t care about how I did in tournaments.

Lori: Oh wow. Okay.

Kathryn: She didn’t. She wasn’t one of those mothers. In fact, it was really the opposite. She was like, “Oh well.” She just thought, “Well, you’re doing this well. You’re really good.” I had actually become more like my father. My father was very successful neurologist. He was a professor. And so I really went to imitating her because my mother really was more of a homemaker. She was a volunteer, but with all the kids and one of my siblings had special needs, she had stopped working. So the role model really became my father, which I don’t think my mother really understood that that was happening. Neither did I really understand that either. So it was fine with her. It was fine but it wasn’t, and that I was expecting that she was going to be a little more supportive and encouraging of my tennis career. And in fact, she wasn’t.

Lori: Okay. So then how did this need to be perfect, which you mentioned being the oldest is I think even more ingrained in us than maybe younger siblings in the traditional stereotype, how did that follow you through your career?

Kathryn: So then what happened was, I really did want to kind of continue my career, my tennis playing, but I realized I couldn’t manage that. So I wanted to play in college, but my parents were definitely not supportive of that. They were intellectuals. They felt the purpose of college is to learn, not to play sports. So that crushed that. So I went to a college and there was third division tennis, which I played for a couple years, but it really wasn’t that inspiring. So what happened was that I just really went do as well as I could to get A’s, and I was an honor roll, and all that. But I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

So the way it was resolved was by seeking out help. The thing that I have learned from my mother is to do things well, right? And that involves seeking out coaching. That I think was probably one of the most important lessons. So what I did was, when I graduated college, I sought out career coaching because I had no idea—I didn’t want to work in the tennis field and I had no idea what to do differently. So I went through an extensive career coaching process and identified talent management HR roles would be a good way to combine my competitiveness and my coaching, which I really, really loved. Because I’ve gotten a master’s degree in psychology in the interim and tried several different careers, which all of them which I hated. Because they were in the nonprofit, they were in schools, they were different things. I was like, “No, I need competitiveness.” That’s what this career counseling process helped me with. And eventually, after three years, which was really a hard process to go through as a perfectionist, I had enough rejections to cover my walls with rejection letters, but this intuitiveness that I have, what you gain to be good at anything, I stuck with it. Eventually I got a job and moved to New York City.

Lori: There’s something to be said for doing things that don’t work out and for discovering what you don’t like.

Kathryn: I had a long list of those things by the time I was in my late 20s, which I then I didn’t appreciate, then I thought I was a failure. I honestly really thought I was just a failure. Everybody else was getting a good job, they were doing this. And I was like, “Well, I’ve tried four or five careers, I’m 26.” We’re talking—this was the 1980s, so it wasn’t really a hip thing to do that. What’s wrong with this person? Today, of course, everybody does that. But not then. So I really felt like I was a failure until finally I got what I thought was a job of my dreams. I was working in this large bank, designing and running training programs, and I just loved it. But I was 28 by then. So it had been through many years and lots of rejection to get there.

Lori: But you finally found what you loved.

Kathryn: Oh yes, because I was determined. I think one of the things about being good at tennis, I learned that if you want to get good at something, again, you have to work hard, you have to take those lessons and be serious. And challenge yourself. I did win a lot of tournaments. But of course, I lost a lot. You realize that the only way you get better is you have to challenge yourself.

Lori: That’s a good key point. Absolutely.

Kathryn: It was a good key point that kept me going despite the fact that I really did feel like a failure.

Lori: How did you then come to write your book about perfectionism?

Kathryn: Part of my career counseling work was they did make you do a 40-year plan. So you’re 23 years old—

Lori: A 40-year plan? Like 4-0?

Kathryn: A 40-year plan. 4-0, yes.

Lori: I barely know what I’m doing in four months, but okay.

Kathryn: I know, right? You’re 23, you’re like, “Oh, 40-year plan? Wow. What the heck is that?” But we did it.

Lori: I’m going to be really old by then.

Kathryn: Right. Like, “Oh, I’m going to be really old.” You can’t fathom it. But it’s pretty fun to do it because you’re like, “Oh, wow. What do I want to do with my life? Wow.” And one of the things was to eventually have my own business, which I’ve had, and to write books. I always had this interest in writing even though I didn’t do really much writing in college or anything. I was just kind of like, “Oh, where did that come from?” but I’ve always enjoyed it.

This Perfectionist book is my third book. The first one was about me and competition, my struggle with competition. The second, I wrote during the COVID thing, on how to survive that and not lose your mind. This third one is about sort of putting it all together of what does it look like. Because it’s taking me a while to figure out what does it look like to be a productive perfectionist? What does that mean? I now have the wisdom and the years to look back and say, “Oh, now I understand.”

Lori: You just used the term “productive perfectionist”. Okay. I just want to make sure I heard that.

Kathryn: The term, that’s the title.

Lori: Oh, that’s the name of the book? Okay. Because that’s interesting. Productive perfectionist.

Kathryn: Versus the perfectionist that just has the fist in the back. That’s what I’ve had mostly. The fist in the back to look perfect, to do the right thing, to just say, “Oh, everything’s fine, when in fact it’s not.

Lori: Obviously, we’re going to have to read the book. We’ll put a link to that in the show notes as well. What’s one thing for becoming a productive perfectionist?

Kathryn: Probably one of the biggest things is you’ve got to become aware of the shoulds. Most of us perfectionists have these standards. Like, “I should keep playing tennis because I’m good,” or “I should pursue this career because I got this degree or whatever.” Maybe it served me at one point, but it’s not serving me anymore. That was really one of my biggest sort of learnings. And I’ve seen a lot in my clients that I work with is “I should be doing this.” Can I share a little story?

Lori: Absolutely.

Kathryn: Okay. One of the ways this really became apparent to me was a few years ago, my husband and I have taken vacations, we like to travel. We took this biking vacation in Cambodia. While we think a vacation for Cambodia is probably not the best idea because a lot of the roads were not that great, and we took it and it was sunny and hot. So we see Angkor Wat which is a very famous place. If you’ve seen any of the—I’m blanking on the name of the movies but it’ll come to me—but it’s in a lot of movies, very famous, that was great. But then we go out to the countryside and it’s 90-100 degrees, the roads are dusty, rocky. By midday in the first day, I’m miserable. I’m crying, I’m yelling, and of course, blaming my husband because of course it’s his fault that he dragged me on this trip.

Lori: “This was your frickin idea.”

Kathryn: Exactly. What was I thinking? We’re like 50 years old and early 50s. What is this? My husband looks at me, he was like, “You’re going to have to find a way to get happy because we’re here or maybe you have to go home.” And I was thinking, “Ugh.”

So I go back to my journal. I’ve been journaling forever. So I’m writing in my journal and I’m crying and I’m writing. And all of a sudden, I realized I have these shoulds. I should be able to tough it out. I’m a competitive athlete, I should be able to tough it out. And I paid for this torture. I should just tough it out. Just do. And I start reflecting. I think, “Really? Okay, that served me to be a competitive athlete when I was, but I haven’t done that for like, I don’t know, 15 years maybe, 20 years. So that’s not working for me. And yes, I paid for this, but does that mean I have to torture myself?” All of a sudden, I had this light bulb went out. It was like, “Okay, these shoulds have been living in me. They’re unconscious. I’m just going to reframe them and change them.” And I was like, “I’m no longer competitive athlete. The point of vacation is to enjoy it. And I don’t have to prove anything to anybody at this point.” So I just decided I would ride if it seemed nice. And otherwise, I’d ride the van that followed the bikers, and I would just choose to enjoy myself and not be pressured by that peer pressure. Everybody was like, “Oh, gung ho.” And of course, I had to be on the trip with some very hearty Australians who were like, “Oh, we’re just going to tough through.” So I’m the only one that was like, “No, I’m not going to do that.” But it was so life-changing because I realized I didn’t have to do that anymore.

Lori: Yes, nobody’s making up the rules except you.

Kathryn: Except me. So that was really just an incredible story that really kind of helped me sort of write the book, because it’s one of the later chapters, and realize that you have to lighten up on yourself and look at these standards and ask yourself, “Are they serving you?” And if not, you can change them and ask, “What would serve you better at this point in time?”

Lori: What would serve you better? I love that. I’m curious. Did anybody else on this trip do what you did and stopped biking through the—

Kathryn: No, nobody.

Lori: No? Okay. I mean, not that it makes it any different. I was just wondering if anybody else, once you gave yourself permission, if that also then gave somebody else permission. Because sometimes that would happen.

Kathryn: Sometimes that did. I mean, all of them didn’t ride for one day because the conditions were so horrendous for one day. But mostly, everybody just toughed it through. And at the end of every day, they would say, “Oh, can you believe that?” They were like, “What did you do, Kathryn?” I said, “Well, I napped and I napped. Then I had a little break. We saw a little whatever. We saw this. We had lunch with all of you. And I napped again.” And they’re like, “Oh.”

Lori: But you enjoyed it.

Kathryn: I enjoyed it. I had a really nice time. And that was the thing. And that for me was a revelation that even though there may be standards that are set by other people or that you’ve inherited, you can actually change them. That was the empowering moment for myself.

Lori: I love that. We can always evolve and change. Nothing is set in stone.

Kathryn: No, no, no.

Lori: That’s a revelation.

Kathryn: It is a revelation. It just sort of changed me. I was like, “Wow.” I tell the story again and again because most people are like, “Oh, yeah,” “Oh,” and realizing the power that in every moment, you can decide. I’m going to give a talk for business school students who are soon to graduate from college. I remember I mentored a young woman and her parents were like, “Well, you majored in finance, you should get a job at a bank,” and she’s like, “Oh.” That’s a should. She never wanted to get a job at a bank. She took this job at a bank because her parents said she should, she majored finance. She lasted like three months and then she left and has created a whole different career being an entrepreneur doing something very different. But that should is really strong.

Lori: Yes, at all ages.

Kathryn: Exactly.

Lori: Always. I don’t know how we pick it up—parents, society, whatever it is. And especially when it’s tied to money.

Kathryn: Yes.

Lori: Money that’s spent.

Kathryn: Especially vacation or whatever, anything.

Lori: Yes, vacation, education, even food. Like, “I bought this, I don’t really like it. But I’m reluctant to throw it out because I paid for it. So let me just finish eating it.”

Kathryn: Right. It’s as simple as that. It’s so ingrained in us. I also think my book is also focused on women. Women and men both suffer from this, but I think women have more of the perfectionist thing because that’s how we survived the millennia. I mean, think of it. It wasn’t until the 1970s women could get a credit card. Up until then, the pleasing, being perfect. There’s research that shows that women get rewarded for being perfect in schools, and they still tend to do better than men in terms of getting A’s. So all that’s kind of ingrained in our gender, in our society.

Lori: Absolutely, it is. When we started this recording, I noticed behind you there are hula hoops, and you said those were related to your perfectionism so I have to ask how.

Kathryn: The funny story about these was that during the pandemic—I live in New York City—it was it was pretty bleak during the early days of the pandemic. It was also spring, I was like, “Okay, how am I going to get some exercise?” I had attended a workshop at Omega Institute the year before and they had had somebody, these women come that sold hula hoops. I’d always sort of liked hula hooping as a child, but I tried my niece’s hula hoop and it’s really skinny. You can’t hula hoop. But they had adult ones, which is like the pink one and the blue one, which were big. I was like, “Oh, this is so fun.” So I had bought one and it kind of sat there for a while. But during the pandemic, I was like, “Oh, this is it.” So I started going up on the roof and hula hooping a lot. That became part of my daily routine, to get some exercise.

Then I realized it could also help me break the perfectionism. So if you have a tough day, or things aren’t going well, or you’re mad at yourself, you have this negative, should thought, I would hula hoop for just three minutes, five minutes, and it would get me out of that. I go back to that child playfulness. That physicality and that playfulness helped break some of those negative thoughts. So it actually has become like a key thing that I recommend. Obviously, I’ve tried different hula hoops. I’m going to experiment with some more because I think it’s something everybody can do. If I could do it in my little New York City apartment for three minutes, it’s certainly more fun than walking around the block or something else. And dancing is also fun, but it’s super fun and easy.

Lori: I love that. I would have never thought of that. And that is so cool. I’m glad you shared that with us.

Kathryn: Thank you. It has kind of become a tribute. That’s why I have it in my Zoom calls. It’s rare. A lot of people don’t even notice it, which is also interesting. It’s part of people notice it.

Lori: Do you remember those Richard Scary books when we were kids? Did you ever have those?

Kathryn: No.

Lori: Richard Scary he wrote… One of them I remember was called “What do people do all day?” He had these little animal characters and they were like humans, but they all had human things. They were so intricately illustrated.

Kathryn: I think I do. Yes.

Lori: I would stare at those books for hours. I was looking at every single detail, every animal, every situation. So it is not at all surprising that I would take in what’s going on in your background is all my point.

Kathryn: That makes sense, though. Yeah, that makes sense that you’ve noticed. But I do think that’s really important because a lot of people don’t notice. What you notice, you listen. But yeah, the hula hooping thing, I think, is just super fun, super accessible. And I think for perfectionists, we definitely need something that breaks that negativity, because perfectionism gets you into this negative sort of victim mindset. This in the back, not good enough. Not good enough is our big story. And you need things to break it. I mean, obviously, changing your thought patterns takes time. But also, I think the physicality of doing some things that lighten you up. That’s why, I think, as we had mentioned, that’s also, at one point in my career, I had a boss that said I needed to lighten up, because I was really frustrated with things that were happening. And he said, “Why don’t you try going to clown school?”

Lori: Okay. There’s an idea that you don’t hear every day.

Kathryn: He had actually been a clown at Ringling Brothers during college. It was one of his college jobs. He was a really “out there” guy.

Lori: All right. So lightening up wasn’t an issue for him, but he saw it in you.

Kathryn: He thought I needed to lighten up. So I said, “Okay.” I went to this clown workshop for a long weekend. I don’t know if you know anything about clown workshops, but there are two types of clown workshops.

Lori: I do not.

Kathryn: I didn’t know this either. But there’s the American clown school, which is you put on the big shoes and the hats and all the props, and you learn tricks kind of related to that. And then there’s a European clown school, which is you develop a clown personality. That begins by looking at how you walk. I went to the European clown school model, which of course, I didn’t know. But this woman was trained in France. So she began the workshop by saying, “We all had to walk along the runway. And then we’ll look at how you walk and we’ll create a clown character.” Now, of course, I walked perfectly.

Lori: I’m just imagining this in my head. Okay.

Kathryn: So you see where this is going. Everybody else had a limp. They had something wrong with a walk. I had nothing wrong. Everybody looks at me and I’m thinking, “I am flunking out of clown school. There’s nothing funny about walking perfectly. It’s not funny.”

Lori: So they naturally walk with a limp? Or did they incorporate it into their clown persona?

Kathryn: I don’t know. All these, there’s something wrong with their walk. Every single one, there’s something wrong with their walk but my walk. There was nothing with my walk, and everybody just sort of stared at me.

Lori: Okay.

Kathryn: The woman was like, “Well, you’re really tall.” And luckily, after I had finished the whole thing, I think I tripped later. Something happened, I tripped. And they’re like, “Oh, that’s it. You’re going to be like this tall person that your clothes will be too short, and then you trip.” I’m like, “Okay, great. Something, anything that people can laugh.” So I became Sassy the clown that had clothes that were too short and she tripped on occasion.

Lori: Wow. That is so interesting. Now I’m so intrigued by clown school. Maybe that can be fun. I don’t know.

Kathryn: There are a lot of clown workshops. I’d like to take another one, because I’ve hired people that are in the former actors and stuff to help me with presentations. So there are those around. I would love to do it again. Because I do think there’s something to it, especially for us perfectionist types that takes ourselves way too seriously. It was so helpful for me to realize I wasn’t funny. And that actually my boss was right, that I was part of the problem. I need to lighten up about myself and stop taking myself so seriously all the time, you know.

Lori: A lot of us could benefit from that.

Kathryn: Yes. That actually led me also—I’ve done a lot of work, improvisation training. That, to me, is where I’ve recommended that to a lot of people and clients, because improvisation really did change my life and helped me lighten up a little bit.

Lori: I remember improv can be a little scary. And at the same time, it is very useful and helpful. I used to be part of Toastmasters.

Kathryn: I’ve done that, too.

Lori: There’s this Toastmasters meetings where you have—what’s it called? Where you’re doing improv answering of questions.

Kathryn: Table Topics.

Lori: Table Topics, right. At the beginning, I was so scared of it. And then, after a while, I was like, “Yeah, bring it. Give me a question.”

Kathryn: Bring it on. Right. I can see you’re really good at it. I probably was terrible at that for quite some time. Years.

Lori: Well, I was too until I learned how to not be so terrible. Wow, this has been such a good conversation. And we didn’t even get into one of the other questions that I wanted to ask you because we had talked about it in the pre-show, it was about the comfort zone shrinking as we get older. Maybe we can touch on that for just a second because you had made a comment that you think that that is what happens. I actually think it may expand. What’s your theory?

Kathryn: What happens to a lot of people, especially those who have perfectionist tendencies, who want to get good at things, so we stay in a narrow zone, and unless you deliberately force yourself to try different things and break out of it, it’s going to shrink. Meaning, am I going to really try something new? There’s lots of written about it. How many of us have tried new things as we get older and older? But I do think if you start doing little things such as going to a clown school, or take an improv class, or go in Toastmasters, or hula hooping, any of these little things, it actually does expand because wisdom is really an expansion of the comfort zone. You’re like, “Oh, I can do that,” or “It’s not so bad if I fail. I can try that because I’ve tried something new before.” So, to me, the goal of life is to keep expanding your comfort zone. That’s a big part of why I’m passionate about this work around the productive perfectionist is because I want to keep expanding my comfort zone. But that little perfectionist thing that sits on my shoulder like, “No, no, stay inside. You want to be good at this.” Or something like, “No, no, I want to expand, I don’t want to be like this that stays in a narrow lane. I want to live a large life where the stakes and new adventures and things that I never tried before are part of my life.” So that’s why, for me, I have to keep pushing myself a little bit to keep expanding my zone.

Lori: I love that. I can see how that happens to people. And at the same time, I think as we get older, sometimes, not a lot, we get more confidence in ourselves. So we are more likely to try something that we have never done before because we feel more confident in who we are. We’ve grown into more who we are. I can see both sides of this coin.

Kathryn: I think that’s a great point. I think that’s the real goal. I think for folks, if you get trapped of just only doing things that you’re good at, that’s just saying, “You know, let me just try something like African dancing, whatever.” That was actually one of my keys to breaking out of perfectionism in college when I stopped playing tennis. I took African dancing. I thought I wanted to try something different. First reason, I love the music, but I was so terrible. I was like the worst. But it was fun.

Lori: That’s another piece is that you have to be willing to be terrible, and so many of us as perfectionist are not willing to be. I’ve heard so many people, myself included, in the past say, “I don’t want to be a beginner. I hate being a beginner because I just want to be good at it.” And that’s kind of impossible.

Kathryn: You have to enjoy the process. That’s the big thing. You have to enjoy the process. That, for me, I learned that through dance class, improvisation, the hula hooping, it reminds me you just have to kind of enjoy it a little bit more.

Lori: Yes.

Kathryn: Those points are good ones. Yeah. The goal is to keep expanding. Yes.

Lori: Keep expanding and keep enjoying.

Kathryn: Yes, both.

Lori: Yes, it’s possible. It’s not one or the other.

Kathryn: No. It’s not a zero-sum game. That’s really what my book the Productive Perfectionist is about. My mission as a coach itself is to—you can keep expanding and enjoying the process and learn different ways such as letting go of those should, reframing those should, doing little exercises to get you out of that, your head, that will help you be in the moment more, enjoy more, but it is something you have to actively manage.

Lori: Yes. Thank you so much.

Kathryn: Thank you.

Lori: What is the song that you listen to when you need an extra boost of energy? Maybe you’re listening to it when you’re hula hooping. What’s your song?

Kathryn: I love that song. I’m Coming Out by Diana Ross.

Lori: Oh, yeah. That’s a good one.

Kathryn: I love that one.

Lori: That is such a good one, too. It’s just like screaming out at the top of your lungs.

Kathryn: Yes, yes. It’s sort of like, “I’m coming out.” It’s kind of like freeing.

Lori: I love it. Okay. And lastly, if someone wants to continue a conversation with you, how is the best way to do that?

Kathryn: I would say just reach out to me on my website, www.kcmayer.com.

Lori: Okay. I will put a link—

Kathryn: Just put that link in there. They could sign up. Send me an e-mail from there. Yeah, I’d love to continue. But I really appreciate this, Lori. This is such a fun conversation.

Lori: It really was. Thank you so much, Kathryn, for showing up for FINE is a 4-Letter Word.

Kathryn: Thanks so much. Have a great rest of the day.

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