Perfectionism, as they say, is a double-edged sword that motivates people to achieve great results but breeds stress, anxiety, and burnout. Everyone experiences perfectionism quite differently because it comes with different shades, a spectrum. The key to that is finding the perfect balance that suits you. In this episode, Julian Reeve, a Keynote Speaker and Burnout Specialist, embarks on his journey with perfectionism and explains how finding the Perfect Equilibrium between the result and journey helps in disrupting burnout. The separation of identity from our work is important, and Julian explains why. His work on the Broadway smash-hit musical Hamilton was the tipping point to his heart attack, and its root cause was perfectionism. Find your Perfect Equilibrium and learn to disrupt burnout with Julian Reeve today.
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Disrupting Burnout: A Perfectionist’s Journey To Finding The Perfect Equilibrium With Julian Reeve
On this show, we’re always looking for unique individuals. I have a unique individual in this episode for many reasons to help you gain another perspective, to look at things maybe in a different way than you’ve looked at them before so that you can work smarter and not harder. I know we keep hearing and saying that we want to be smarter, but there’s a knowing and doing gap. We all know that. Without further ado, let me introduce Julian Reeve.
He is critically acclaimed for his work on the Broadway smash-hit musical Hamilton. Julian is a keynote speaker and a burnout specialist committed to disrupting society’s attitude towards work and achievement. He graduated from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England before embarking on a highly successful career as a musician and entrepreneur, performing to millions around the world while founding four thriving businesses in the creative sector.
We have a multifaceted personality here. I’m excited to get you on, Julian. His commitment to his work led to a stress-induced heart attack when he was just 43 years old. That’s not good. We’re going to know more about that. This event inspired extensive research into the current trends for achievement and exploration of alternatives and his findings provided the foundations for his TEDx Talk, which was amazing, on perfectionism and a children’s book on the same subject. Without further ado, he’s amazing. He’s here with us. Let’s talk to Julian. Welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me.
What a diverse background, music, business building, and all of that. I’m not even sure where to start. Let’s start with the piece that’s most personal which is in your bio you said you had a work-induced heart attack. Tell us what happened and how you turned lemons into lemonade.
I used to be the music director of Hamilton. I was three months into that job when I had a heart attack. I conducted a performance in San Francisco. I was walking home. I overcame the pain in my chest and down my left arm, sweating profusely, and out of breath. I didn’t, for one minute, think that it was a heart attack. I managed to make it home. I went to bed, went to sleep, woke up the following day, and felt better, but still not great. I thought, “I need some energy,” so I went to the gym.
I managed 1 kilometer on the treadmill. Normally, I’m a 6 or 7-kilometer guy. My body started reacting in the same way. I’m thinking, “This is flu.” This is what high achievers do, whenever the stuff hits the fan, it’s like, “I’m fine. I can handle this.” I went to the theater. This was a Saturday afternoon. I conducted another performance of Hamilton. It was that same night when I experienced the same symptoms and woke up the following morning feeling much worse. Only then did I decide to get medical help. They did all the tests. They were able to pinpoint the heart attack on Friday night. That was a very unique and difficult experience. The cardiologists sat me down and said, “I do hope you understand how lucky you are.” I was like, “Of course.”
“Let me get back to my work.”
He said, “No, you’re not hearing me. Your right coronary artery was 95% blocked, which means that had you experienced any more stress between when you had the attack and when you checked in, you might not be here.” At that point, I stopped like, “Fine.”
Before you got there, I want to back up a second, and not go into the Hamilton fully because we’re in this story but was it the stress from that role, the overworking or the overthinking that created that or was it a period of years of working like that that built to that. It’s so that people can understand whether this is something that happens from a short-term stressful situation because you said you started there three months ago or a bigger problem.
Hamilton was the tipping point. What started it was my omnipresent ambition to thrive to succeed. As my bio says, I’ve been heavily involved in entrepreneurship driven by my work throughout my entire life, but ultimately the root of the heart attack if I was honest with myself and I was forced to be honest with myself through work with a psychologist after the attack happened was perfectionism. That started in childhood and was born through my upbringing and early career as a musician often playing with musicians much older than I was, needing to be perfect and achieve, etc.
As a recovering perfectionist, I understand.
It’s interesting that you use the word recovery because straight after the heart attack I went to see the psychologist and we got into perfectionism. I read Brené Brown’s The Gifts Of Imperfection, which is an amazing book. It started me on my journey. The deeper I went, the more I realized that I was having a fairly visceral response, even though I knew that I needed to address my perfectionism. I was having a response against addressing it because I valued it. I think most perfectionists do.
We call it high standards or something else to make it okay. I say we because I’m right there.
I think we have to qualify and quantify it. We do that through what you’ve said. I rail against the term recovering perfectionists because it’s something that we can dissect. Recovering is a label that we use to get out of the all or nothing, and it leads us to the nothing rather than the all. I do believe that there’s a hybrid where we can get into the root of our perfectionism, find out what works for us, find out what doesn’t work for us, do the work for the stuff that doesn’t work, and keep the stuff that does.
I say recovery because I’m trying to be funny, but I do see it as a work in progress. I was expecting perfection from our change or transformation from perfection. That’s not going to work either. Like you said, it’s not an all-or-nothing thing. We have to recognize the progress as we’re making it.
Completely. That touches on probably my biggest journey since the heart attack. It was the realization that I had been focused on the result all of my life and unfocused on the journey to the result that I allowed the attack to happen. When I say that I allowed the attack to happen, it was born out of low self-esteem. Therefore, I didn’t look after myself, crappy diet, no exercise, missed night’s sleep, etc. Being much more focused on the journey to the result was probably first on the to-do list of the methods that I needed to change because my old methods were no longer certain.
Let’s talk about that. I’m a very results-oriented person. When I say the result, I mean objective or whatever it is to know where we’re going and what is that we want to do. Otherwise, how do you set priorities? As you said, we also need to respect the journey. I’m guessing you’re going to talk about the equilibrium there or the way to find that balance. There’s an 80/20 rule, which talks about the 20% that makes 80%. is there a ratio about which part results and which part journey? How do we find that balance to know that we constantly step back and say where are we going but to give us space along the way to experience and be present in part of the journey?
Presents and being part of that journey, being self-aware enough to know what’s happening on the journey is key. In answer to the 80/20 element, I’m not a huge fan of putting numbers on stuff like this because everyone is different. Everyone is going to have a different method and reaction to what’s going on. I am still results-orientated. I have to achieve results. I have deadlines like everybody else. I still have the same high standards that I had before the heart attack, but I had to figure out during Hamilton how to maintain the standards of the biggest Broadway show on the planet in healthier ways.
What I learned then transferred to my personal work and now my business perfect equilibrium, and I think perfect equilibrium ostensibly is when we set the bar where we need to set the bar and want to set the bar so we know exactly where we’re going. We know exactly what we’re going to achieve and when we need to achieve it, but the perfect equilibrium element is being self-aware enough and compassionate enough to ourselves on the journey to the result. Prior to the heart attack, I would regularly go to the piano, for example, and be learning Hamilton before I took the job on the road and because there was much music and there was a short time, I would do the work.
I would regularly wake up. I wouldn’t shower. I wouldn’t get a cup of coffee. I go straight to the piano and practice and I’d still be there five hours later having not looked after myself. These days, I would in that situation, set an alarm every 55 minutes which forces me to be present to the present moment every 55 minutes so that I can take five minutes for myself or whatever that means. It can mean a glass of water, stretching, or getting outside for some air. It doesn’t matter. Everyone has different needs, but the point is that you are being true to your needs in the present moment, which allows you to achieve success in healthier ways and better results because the following 55 minutes are much better quality. The output is much better quality because you’ve spent those five minutes.
It’s also allowing the self-compassion element. I recognize partly driven by perfectionism that my inner critic was horrible. Pretty much everything that I did was critiqued inwardly. The energy that I was expelling through all of that stuff was completely harmful and not good for Julian Reeve and not good for Hamilton either. This is where self-compassion comes in. Learning to be as compassionate with ourselves as we are to others and transferring some of that language is an important part as we achieve our success and as we go after our results.Learning to be as compassionate with ourselves as we are to others and transferring some of that language is important in achieving success. Click To Tweet
A lot of people think that’s lazy or selfish, but I think it’s a superpower that allows us to achieve that success even better success because, and this is the final element of perfect equilibrium in terms of what we’re talking about, reevaluate exactly what the result is. I think many people think about the result as the end product, “I need to build a website within two weeks. How does the website look? Incredible. Did I do it on budget and within and time frame? Yes. Awesome, then the result is a success.”
That’s a very linear approach to what success looks like. I now look at success much more broadly and consider my own journey within the website’s journey if we’re continuing that analogy, for example. Success now for me is very much equated with my own journey getting to the product result rather than just looking at the result of the product itself.
The result of the product versus the product of the result. It’s interesting because when you said focused on the website as an example, the website isn’t the goal. We spent so much effort perfecting this website when it just needed to drive business. The goal is whatever the website will do for you.
That’s an important subject. One of the biggest things that I had to work through, and this is true for all high achievers, is that the result of our work is our identity. We become our work. That’s why the result is important to us. Before we do this work, we think that the website, in this instance, represents us. If the website looks great, then therefore we are great. The separation of identity, self-worth, self-esteem, etc., to our work is important because when we do that, that’s when we start to lean into everything that we’re talking about.The separation of identity from our work is important because that's when we start to lean into everything. Click To Tweet
When you said you were you started to take care of yourself to take breaks, was that spun off at all because you recognized that the quality of your work was going down, you were making mistakes? Was any of that present as well as the physical, “My life depends on it?”
Yes, in a couple of ways. The perfection isn’t work transferred very nicely to Hamilton. I dug pretty deep into the perfectionism world and I discovered the type of perfectionist that I am. Officially, there are three perfectionists that we could be.
Is it your work that you are a perfectionist?
No, this is the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale driven by psychologists Hewitt and Flett. They figured out that there are three dimensions. Self-orientated, which is where we demand perfection of ourselves, other orientated where we demand perfection of others, and socially prescribed perfectionism where we think that everybody else needs us to be perfect. Whenever your internet stopped working in 2017, I took the test for perfectionism. It blew up the internet because the self-orientated scale didn’t exist for the information I gave you. It was off the chart, as was socially prescribed perfectionism. I started to lean into the self-compassion to start to be kinder to myself but I also started to release some of the standards or some of the high standards that I thought everybody else demanded of me. For example, looking at Hamilton.
It makes a lot of sense. You’re representing a stage performance and you know that I can shake my head.
When you break it down to its bare bones, you can easily say, “That’s what I was paid to do. That’s why I got the job because I’m good at doing that. I’m good at maintaining the standards of Broadway around the country and the world and getting the company to be the best that they can be every night or as close to perfection as I could get it.” The balance of the release of that is, “This is what Miranda needs from me, but what do I need for me in order to achieve that?”
That was an interesting journey. Within that, I experienced flow for the first time as a music director because I was finally released enough to be doing something challenging, but well it was within my skillset. I finally learned to let go enough that I could operate at a higher level. To answer your question, I absolutely found that the release created more. That’s a lot of the work that I now do with high achievers. It is how we give ourselves permission to do less to achieve more.
I would love to continue our conversation and maybe we’ll have to do a version two. What didn’t I ask you that you think is important to bring a cost to the work that you’re doing?
The hardest thing that I find is bringing people to the realization that they need to look at this stuff and consider this stuff before the pain point. The reason why I tell my story is not sympathy or for effect. Yes, it was a jump-off point. Do I wish I didn’t have a heart attack? Of course. Did my heart attack allow me to do the work that I was meant to do? Yes, but don’t allow yourself to get to that point. Many people come to me after the pain point and go help, and they wish that they’d addressed it. The biggest takeaway I can offer with that is self-awareness. It’s like well, “Where am I today?” Three basic questions, “What am I thinking? What am I feeling? What am I sensing?”
If you ask yourself those questions, often every day, you will start to build a very strong portfolio of feelings, thoughts, and senses that give you the information that you then need to take yourself forward. For example, if you’re feeling stressed, what’s the trigger? What’s the stressor? Can you remove yourself from the situation? How else can you work your situation to better your environment to avoid a heart attack? That’s one example. That’s the most important thing. The biggest thing I try and inspire people to do is to get in front of this stuff before it hurts.
I call them reset moments. That heart attack is a big reset moment. I’m talking about people paying attention and being aware of those triggers. Those things for me are the daily reset moments, when we can be more present daily. I have a different language for it. I totally believe that awareness is the catalyst for growth. I started out the show so it would be a good way to end the show about how we close the gap between the knowing, the doing, and having that self-awareness so that we can take those next steps towards what’s most important for us that is going to be key. I have many things to ask you that we didn’t even get to talk about because I want to know about the whole Hamilton experience. We’ll have to have you back to talk a little bit more about your background. Where can people find out more information about you and the work that you’re doing?
The company website, PerfectEquilibrium.co. There’s a free eBook 6 Steps To Perfect Equilibrium, which we’ll get your annual organization slightly more focused in terms of how you can manage stress and burnout. There’s going to be an exciting AI platform coming out that will help individuals manage their own stress and burnout called Pepper: The Perfect Equilibrium Personal Assistant. That’s been a fun exercise. It’s been great and I’m excited for what it’s going to achieve. I think it’s it’s going to be a bit of a game-changer. For everything else, JulianReeve.com. I’m on all the usual social. On LinkedIn, it’s @Julian.Reeve.
Thank you so much for being here. I enjoyed this and I know that everybody else has as well.
Thanks for having me. I enjoyed that.
Thank you all for being here. I know you took away some thoughts there. Maybe it’s asking yourself those three questions every day or a couple of times a day, stopping, setting a timer, making yourself more present throughout the day, thinking, feeling, sensing, and looking for those triggers. Lots of great stuff. I’m looking to help you guys find your perfect equilibrium so that you can work smarter. We’ll see you in the next episode.
- Julian Reeve
- The Gifts Of Imperfection
- 6 Steps To Perfect Equilibrium
- @Julian.Reeve – LinkedIn
About Julian Reeve
Critically acclaimed for his work on the Broadway smash-hit musical Hamilton, Julian is a Keynote Speaker and Burnout Specialist committed to disrupting society’s attitude to work and achievement. He graduated from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England, before embarking on a highly successful career as a musician and entrepreneur, performing to millions around the world while founding four thriving businesses in the creative sector.
Julian’s commitment to his work lead to a stress-induced heart attack when he was just 43 years old. This event inspired extensive research into the current trends for achievement and the exploration of alternatives, with his findings providing the foundations for his TEDx Talk on Perfectionism and a children’s book on the same subject. His work has been featured in numerous leading publications, and he regularly appears on top 200 podcasts and other media outlets.
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