Occasionally I have the privilege of speaking to a group of women, from professionals to young mothers. In the coming weeks I have three such engagements, and from my long list of topics, they all chose the same one: “When Good is Never Enough.”
It’s one of my most requested presentations because women battle perfectionism, daily, no matter what their stage of life.
Younger women are unhappy with their bodies and wish they could be like the over-photoshopped models in the media. Working women are striving to climb the ladder by working overtime and too often sacrificing their relationships. Those of us in the “older” category spend millions on serums, creams and Botox to reduce the fine lines in our faces. Our jiggly thighs and puffy abdomens get sucked away, only to return in a matter of months. I even look for “perfect apples” when the misshapen ones would taste just as good.
Dr. Brené Brown is a world-renowned researcher and professor who’s studied perfectionism, shame and vulnerability. She calls perfectionism the 20-ton shield we carry around, thinking it will protect us from being hurt. What it really does is protect us from being seen. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Brown said:
“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
In a recent New Yorker article, “Improving Ourselves to Death,” the author says:
“The desire to achieve and to demonstrate perfection is not simply stressful; it can also be fatal, according to the British journalist Will Storr who confesses he, too, is dogged by self-loathing and suicidal thoughts. ‘We’re living in an age of perfectionism, and perfection is the idea that kills,’ he writes. ‘People are suffering and dying under the torture of the fantasy self they’re failing to become.’”
Personally I’ve found that, with age, I don’t care so much what others think, although I’m spending more that I ever thought I would on anti-aging serum. But if you struggle with self-sabotaging perfectionism, here are some insights I’ve shared hundreds of times–way too often.
- Acknowledge that “perfect is the enemy of great.” If you’re striving to have the perfect house, perfect yard, perfect body, perfect hair… say “Good is good enough!” and move on.
- Embrace do-overs. If you make a mistake, or fail when attempting something new, admit it and try again. Consider it a chance to embrace new opportunities and expect that the second (or third!) time will be even better.
- Don’t push yourself to extremes. When you’re feeling overwhelmed and pressured to meet a deadline, ask yourself, “Who else knows I’m behind schedule? Who really cares?” Take a break! Don’t let yourself get so exhausted from striving for perfection that you run out of enthusiasm. Take it slowly and enjoy the ride.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. You were born with a unique set of gifts and skills. There is no one like you! You are not like anyone else so quit wishing you could be like them! That only leads to feeling inferior and small. Appreciate yourself and focus on what you’ve accomplished rather than what everyone else is doing.
- Set your expectations on human standards. You are human, and you are expected to perform at human levels, not superhuman. Setting the bar at unrealistic levels will certainly set you up for failure, so set your sights on goals that motivate, not frustrate you. Don’t try to be Wonder Woman. She’s not real!
- Accept the risk of being authentic. There is even greater risk in hiding your true self from the world.
While I used to be a perfectionist, as I’ve gotten older, that component has faded into the background. Fortunately I never used to beat myself up about it. I always do my best, and if it’s not good enough… Maybe next time. Thanks for these words of wisdom, Susan, because I know a lot of women can use them. Brenda
Ugh. Dead on.