Feeling the Need to Be Perfect – The Biggest Challenge Facing Future Female Leaders (And Four Tips for Overcoming Perfectionism)

Women's Empowerment Keynote Speaker

Although viewed as an ambitious, productive approach, perfectionism can be perilous. However, there are ways to overcome it.

Perfectionism can be a dangerous trait, even though many see it as positive. When it becomes excessive, it’s a psychological burden more akin to a disorder. Feeling the obsessive need to never make a mistake can, paradoxically, more often lead to failure.

Too much concern for details and control will make the everyday work overwhelming. In its extreme, perfectionism can contribute to eating disorders, anxiety, and depression. And the worst thing is, you’re doing all that to yourself.

Shakira is an excellent example of a successful young woman struggling with perfectionism. She went public about the burden of requiring perfection of herself, talking about how that mindset affects her emotionally and psychologically. And when such a famous personality raises the subject, it’s a good thing.

With millions of followers, Shakira made her message about perfectionism a part of the public conversation. It’s a subject women, in particular, should be talking about. In today’s world, when women are taking more control over their personal and professional lives, feeling the pressure is expected.

For future female leaders, it’s crucial not to give way to perfectionism. It can hinder future progress and prove counterproductive. In the sections below, we’ll take a look at four tips for overcoming perfectionism.

The Tips

Overcoming perfectionism requires you to become more mindful and take the time to work on potential shortcomings. Always aiming for perfection means you rarely meet your standards. This comes from unrealistic expectations fuelled by fear of mistakes and failure. If you’ve noticed such symptoms, here are some helpful methods to relieve the pressure of perfectionism.

1. Set Realistic Goals

A perfectionist sets their goals relative to what they feel they should do. In other words, the goal is too high to reach. That’s why you should be more realistic with what you’re aiming for.

Taking your strengths and weaknesses into account is a great virtue when making plans. It’s also the most efficient way to use the resources available to you. If you have a massive project, and the overall goal seems overwhelming, break it down into smaller steps.

When you set realistic goals that take your needs and capabilities into account, you’ll notice progress very soon. You’ll also see that you can achieve any task if you plan it accordingly, and the stress will greatly diminish.

You don’t need to lower your standards for this to happen. However, once you start enjoying the success that comes with setting realistic goals, it might lead you to re-evaluate your expectations. It’s not a change in the quality of what you do. Rather, it’s a new relationship with yourself.

2. Change Your Self-Talk

Self-talk is so important for how you view yourself. Often, the perfectionist in you will be overly critical, whispering how you’re not good enough, not capable enough, lazy, useless. The crucial mistake we can make is to take that voice at face value.

Recognising your mistakes and shortcomings is good. However, when it comes to perfectionism, those remarks tend to be destructive. Of course, there’s a huge difference between saying you need to work on yourself and proclaiming you’re a failure.

Luckily, you can work on your self-talk. Taking a conscious, gentler attitude towards your life and work will work wonders. The first step is to recognise when your self-talk is being too harsh and counterproductive. Once you notice it, you can change it.

Treat yourself the way you would a loved one. You’d want them to prosper as much as they can, but you wouldn’t talk about their efforts in a deprecating way. The same goes for self-talk. Make it positive and be patient with yourself, and soon enough, your self-esteem will flourish.

3. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

You probably know the quote “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it’s stupid.” While a bit hyperbolic, the sentence perfectly describes the downfalls of comparing to others.

Comparisons are never a good way to build a relationship, and that includes the one you have with yourself.

For perfectionists, the comparison is always in favour of the other person. You might have caught yourself looking at exceptionally talented or successful people and thinking where you are in life relative to them. If that’s true, it’s vital for you to stop doing that immediately.

While you can notice certain qualities you seem to lack or better skills in other people, chances are the perfectionist in you is overlooking all that you have and those that people don’t. It might seem unnecessary to say, but this is because people are different. And comparing yourself to others makes you forget that obvious fact.

That’s why the only person you should compare to is you. Focus on what you have done compared to an earlier stage in life. Recognise how you’ve improved, the challenges you overcame, and where you are now relative to where you started from.

Take your life so far as the measure of your success. No one else has travelled the same road, been the same person as you, nor faced the same circumstances.

4. Learn How to Accept Criticism

Dealing with criticism can be difficult, even when it’s constructive. When it comes to perfectionism, criticism is often devastating. Plus, it’s a fact of life that not everyone will be benevolent when making remarks on your actions.

The main problem with accepting criticism comes from reacting to it emotionally. That means you might take the remark as a personal attack and obsess over it, instead of judging it by its worth.

If you approach it from a constructive angle, your critics can become your best friends. The fact is, whatever mistake you’ve made doesn’t immediately lessen your self-worth. Everyone can improve and learn, and the process is as natural as day and night.

To start accepting criticism better, first evaluate who the critic is. Are they competent in the subject they’re commenting on? Is there a reason for them to point out your shortcoming? These questions should inform if and how you’ll consider the criticism.

If the remark is valid, the right reaction would be to make the most of it and use the criticism for future improvement. On the other hand, an unhelpful remark doesn’t deserve your attention at all.

These points are easier said than done because they require taking conscious control over an emotional response. But, practice makes perfect. It might take some time to become mindful enough to develop an immediate reaction to criticism. Consider it as learning a new skill, give it your best, and be patient. Once you master the skill, every constructive remark will become precious advice, and the other ones will be gone with the wind.

Aim for Better, Not for Perfect

There are many problems when looking at perfectionism as a positive trait. The main one is at the root word. Being perfect or doing something perfectly usually isn’t realistic. Instead, it’s likely a construct based on ideals that are either exceptional or entirely unachievable.

What perfection means will differ from one person to the next on a personal level. On a general level, if there is some agreement about what is or isn’t perfect, it relies on comparisons. And we’ve described above how detrimental those can be, especially when they’re unfavourable.

Comparing only to yourself and staying true to what you are is the best way to improve. Strive to be better than you were yesterday, and that will be more than enough. Leave the idea of perfection behind, while you start to enjoy real life.

If you like what you’ve read so far, feel free to check out my speaking services. You’ll discover plenty of practical tips for women leaders.