Is Perfectionism Keeping You from Next-Level Success?

Are you one of the many high-achieving women who identify as a perfectionist? You’re not
alone; up to 66 percent of women admit they are, according to some studies.

And the fact is, women do this more than men. According to an Australian study, 33 percent of women in corporate workplaces had high perfectionism scores, compared to 21 percent of men. I can relate, having been a perfectionist for most of my life. And while I achieved many external markers of success, I felt exhausted, frustrated, and unfulfilled.
For women in corporate, there’s a whole other level of perfectionism. You’re not just trying to be perfect; you’re trying to be perfect by a set of unwritten rules that is unclear and confusing. We hear things like, Be strong. Don’t let them see you sweat. You need to do it better than the men to get ahead. It’s exhausting.

We call it having high standards and it’s particularly prevalent in high-achieving women who aim to meet these high standards in most areas of their lives while making it look easy. One high-powered senior exec at The Coca-Cola Company shared that she didn’t use the company gym because she didn’t want the men to see her sweat. Yet this perfectionism that many of us wear as a badge of honor is not only affecting how we feel, it’s blocking us from our next level of success.

How does perfectionism impact mastery? 
In addition to negative, stress-related impact on physical and emotional health, perfectionism has a direct impact on performance. It blocks the ability to have that next big breakthrough. True innovation requires a beginner’s mindset. The beginner’s mindset is filled with curiosity and free of expectations of how things will work. Think about a baby learning to walk. It’s awkward and messy. How many times does she fall? But as we get older and more successful, we start to expect we’ll be good at everything. We no longer tolerate the embarrassment that comes with trying something new for the first time.

Often this fear of being seen as anything other than that perfect successful version of ourselves keeps women especially, from taking uncomfortable steps leading to growth. The beginner’s mindset says, “It doesn’t have to be perfect.”

Striving for perfection can also lead to missed opportunities such as speaking up in a meeting for fear that what you say won’t be smart enough, or fear of being judged. Maybe it’s kept you from raising your hand for a project you want but aren’t sure you have the skill set to do, or due to fear of looking incompetent, or applying for a promotion at work.
Perfectionism can impact your ability to create a powerful future. When you set out to come up with your big vision, the logical part of your mind goes to work trying to figure out what is probable rather than what is possible. You want to dream big and perfectionism gets in the way. If your vision doesn’t give you butterflies, you’re probably not thinking big enough.

Letting go of perfectionism gives us the power to think big without the constraints of that critical voice telling us “That’s not possible.” 

Trying to be perfect also reduces our chances of establishing genuine connections. When we project the image of effortlessness, others are not able to see and connect with the real you. We’ve all heard about the importance of showing vulnerability as a leader, yet many of us aren’t sure what that means. Am I supposed to show all my weaknesses? I’ve been told to show strength as a leader; how will people view me? (Check out this recent PINK Event to hear how top women leaders do this successfully.) Being vulnerable means letting go of showing up as perfect.

Share your scars. Not necessarily your bleeding wounds, but challenges that will make you more relatable and deepen connections. Also, this makes it easier for people on your team to come to you with what they’re struggling with.

Where does perfectionism come from?

The conditioning starts in childhood, and it is an adaptive behavior. Our unconscious mind tells us if we are good enough, we can control the environment around us, including people’s reactions to us. We’ve been conditioned to believe being perfect would ensure we are loved and our needs would be taken care of. 
For me, having experienced childhood bullying, perfectionism was deeply ingrained because I thought if I looked and acted perfect, I wouldn’t be attacked. This was all in my unconscious, of course, and I didn’t realize it for most of my life. In fact, when my closest friend from childhood read about this in my new book, “The Power of Living Unscripted,” her comment was, “Oh my God, Sheila, I didn’t know!” My response to her was, “I’m not surprised.” I was great at projecting the false image of the successful girl and woman who had it all together, looked great, and had everything under control. I never asked for help and never showed that I was struggling.   
Here are some steps you can take to help you leave perfectionism behind:
1. Practice mindfulness to unlock your ability to get quiet and tap into your inner wisdom and the part of you that knows that you don’t have to be perfect. You may do that through meditation and/or breathing.
2. Reflect on what is behind your perfectionism. What is the voice in your head telling you? When did you first learn this?
3. Identify small steps to let go of perfectionism, to gradually give your mind evidence that it’s safe to be less than perfect. Maybe it’s sharing a time when things didn’t turn out the way you expected with your team or just one person.

You may find it uncomfortable at first, but this is just a sign that you’re growing, and the
discomfort will lessen with time. So, what’s one thing you can do to release perfectionism today?

“Perfectionism is a self-destructive, addictive belief system that fuels the primary thought: if I do everything perfectly, I can minimize painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”
– Brené Brown

By Sheila Eggert

NOTE: Check out executive coach, Sheila Eggert’s bestselling new book “The Power of Living Unscripted: Reclaim Creative Control of Your Life” on Amazon.

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