There are so many views on perfection: It is the key to success or a recipe for dissatisfaction. It can never be achieved, it is the only way to achieve. It can drive passion or foster unhappiness. What is a great woman to do?
We are all too familiar with the pressure to look perfect and the tired tale of the role advertising continues to play in convincing us that perfect hair, nails, makeup, clothes, legs, arms, abs – I could go on – is the route to happiness, success and romance. That is a load of nonsense and I hope you, dear reader, have let that go. It’s a bit like meditation, you have to practice releasing these thoughts consciously before it becomes second nature. The critical move is to start questioning the value of what you do on a daily basis to get yourself ready to face the world. Removing one bit of bondage at a time is a good way to test the value of your efforts.
What of other pursuits? Is perfection an idea or a standard? As an idea it enables you to think something through to what you hope will be its natural conclusion. You ponder and introduce new ideas, reject others. It leads to practice and improvement, accomplishment and confidence. As a standard it may become a relentless dictator, leading to processes and procedures that give the illusion of achieving perfection while driving those around you (not to mention yourself) absolutely crazy. When I think about the people I enjoy working with and for, they are the ones who look at a thing from every which way to arrive at clarity. The ones who try to turn perfection into a standard and a specific way of behaving and recording, can become rigid and critical, labeled as a merciless micro-manager – demotivating and alienating everyone in their path.
The quest for perfection seems to be rooted in criticism. Criticize the young relentlessly and you will render them slaves to perfection. This is so true of children but also true of people embarking on careers. Criticism can bring the brightest soul to their knees, and they recover their stance often through the pursuit of perfection, second-guessing themselves, working long, fruitless hours, and in turn rendering them in turn as employers who wreak the same havoc on their employees. I don’t think the perfectionist drive is gender specific, but I do think women have often compensated for a lack of power (perceived or otherwise) by subjecting themselves and others to standards of perfection that are not valuable. I know women of my generation, many of whom entered into professions and workplaces still largely dominated by men (and if not by men alone then certainly by male-thinking) found that on the outer edge of acceptance, the path forward seemed to call for pushing harder than everyone else – dotting more ‘i’s’ and crossing more ‘t’s’ . I understand all that very well. I also know that it is behaviour we don’t want to pass to the next generation of working women and certainly not to our kids.
A woman can and will be great without being perfect, distinguishing between constructive and ruinous criticism, by focusing her energy on the stuff that provides deep satisfaction. By letting the small things go, by actively leading a balanced life, pursuing interests for pleasure and accomplishment, without expectations of perfection. Don’t let perfection stand in the way of learning something new, doing something differently, or pursuing an interest. If you’re not perfect, don’t worry, you don’t have to be.
I would be interested in the role perfectionism has played or not played in your life. Let me know.
Links & resources
Become the woman of your dreams – a great TED talk that says it all so much better