There's been a fair amount of attention given to the topic of perfectionism and women over the past several years. It seems, however, that although many women have begun to recognize the harm that perfectionism can do in our lives, we’re still not sure what to do about it. The fact remains that most of us spend the majority of every day bombarded by cultural dictates about who we’re ‘supposed’ to be.
From books to television, sportscasters to celebrity ‘lifestyle gurus,’ we continuously receive messages about the need to do and be more. Drawing from mainstream cultural sources, the logical conclusions are something long the lines of: "we’re expected to be high achieving, but not bitchy; we should be accomplished, but not intimidating. ‘Lean in,’ but don’t forget to be endlessly generous with our time and energy, and never resentful. Did I mention thin, youthful, sexy, perfectly groomed and always smiling? By the way, all of this should seem totally effortless; if any of it stresses you out, well, the world just doesn’t want to see that." Sound familiar?
It’s no wonder so many women are pulled into the allure of perfectionism: we’ve been raised on the idea that we’re expected to be perfect. And perfectionism (defined as a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable) is hurting us more than we know. Not only does It lead to anxiety and depression, the fear of not being able to do things perfectly keeps us from going after what we really want in life.
So what do we do about it? How can we let good enough really be good enough?
When you find yourself in the throes of perfectionism, perhaps racing to meet a deadline or unable to move forward because you’re stuck on details that aren’t yet ‘perfect,’ ask yourself the following:
Are your expectations reasonable?
Sometimes, it’s as simple as being realistic about the amount of time that something is going to take to perfect. You might also want to consider the amount of energy that it’s going to take for a particular detail and whether that’s really how you choose to spend that energy. Chances are, the answer might be ‘no’ if you really thought about it.
Are you spending too much time? Is that hurting the outcome?
Perfectionism shows up for many women as a kind of professional self-sabotage. If you’re missing deadlines over details that no one else cares about, maybe it’s time to take a look at the big picture. This can happen at home as well. Being late to an event because you spend too much time getting ready or starting a party 3 hours late because you got bogged down in details that no one else will notice can leave you feeling rushed and unsatisfied.
Would you expect this much perfection from someone else?
If the answer is ‘yes,’ think about how this affects your relationships. What would it look like if you were a little less hard on everyone, including you. If the answer is ‘no,’ then how reasonable is it to expect so much of yourself? What can you do to give yourself a break?
Overcoming perfectionism is a process, rather than a magic cure. It takes time and really being honest with yourself. By developing your awareness and practicing making conscious choices to let things go, you’ll get more comfortable letting good enough be good enough.