Have you ever noticed a trait in yourself, and then suddenly catch yourself doing that behavior all the time?
I’ve only recently started to catch habits of my own perfectionist tendencies, which I’m starting to realize I’ve been cultivating for decades. For me, perfection looks like master procrastinating on tasks that give me anxiety, decision fatigue, and unnecessary over-achievement. And what a silly thing perfectionism is when you think about it. For starters, it’s a completely subjective aspiration and the only person who notices if we are perfect or not is us.
It’s no surprise that women – and mothers –often get caught in the trap of perfectionism, starting from a young age. In fact, Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani, has a theory that boys are praised for being brave and doing the thing – studying for the test, practicing for the match, etc., while girls are more likely to be praised for being perfect- like when they ace the test or get perfect marks for a dance routine. Personally, I don’t think perfectionism is black and white when it comes to gender. My husband is also a perfectionist, and when the two of us go head-to-head in the pursuit for perfection, we can spiral into decision-paralysis, well – indefinitely. Exhibit A: all the blank walls of the house we moved into 16 months ago.
But, like all nagging, negative, long-held habits, once you start to call them out, they start to lose their power over you.
“Hello Perfectionism, I see you”, I think to myself while waving an imaginary Harry Potter wand, “Now, be gone!” And what a relief. To keep my 100%-or-nothing behavior in check – and my sanity in the process – these are my go-to perfection-busting muses that I keep at the forefront of my mind when work, home, and all the life in between start to make me feel more panicked than perfect.
Winning Ugly with Courtney Wyckoff:
My girl Courtney is the maven of MommaStrong, my favorite exercise program for mamas and mamas-to-be. This mom keeps. it. real. And for that I am so grateful. Rather than spend all her time trying to get the best take, she simply sets up her camera and records a fifteen minute workout so I can do the same. Sometimes a kid runs screaming into the shot or a cat walks into the frame and spits-up. Sometimes there may be a technical malfunction, but whatever it is, Courtney just keeps going. Because that’s how life is. Moms don’t have time for second takes. Winning Ugly she calls it. Just show up and do the thing, even if it’s not perfect. Oh yes Courtney, I’m here for all the ugly.
Fast, Bad, Wrong with Kari Clark:
Kari is the founder of Uplift, which helps companies to empower their working moms. She sends a daily email with inspiration, hacks and clever insights into parenting. It’s honestly the best thing in my in-box. She introduced me to the notion of “fast, bad, wrong,” via Safi Bahcall in one of her emails earlier this spring and it’s been scribbled as a motivational mantra in my weekly planner ever since. When setting out to do a task, just get it out of your brain and work through it. Don’t give yourself time to edit, redo or question while you go. Starting what you finished is often better than getting trapped by perfection-induced anxiety. For a girl who white-knuckles through every PowerPoint presentation at work, this advice is invaluable. Are you sensing a theme yet?
Perfectionism is a Shield with Brene Brown:
You know I couldn’t talk about battling perfectionism if I didn’t mention the one and only Brene. Thanks to her new Netflix special, she’s more popular than ever, and the timing is perfect since I’m currently reading my way through her canon of work. I read the Gifts of Imperfection this winter, and boy, was it a punch to the gut. Why I never picked this book up sooner with a title like that is beyond me, but I’m so glad I did. Oh hey Brene, did you write this book specifically for me?? In it she explains how we use perfectionism as a shield to try to protect ourselves from judgement, shame, or painful feelings, but really all it does is weigh us down from our true potential. Thank you for enlightening me, Brene. From now on, I choose to lay down my shield.
I promise, once you start to think about your own perfectionist tendencies, you won’t be able to unsee them. And while I still often get caught in my perfect-or-nothing behavior traps, thanks to some wise women, my muscle that lets me find satisfaction in the perfectly imperfect is getting stronger by the day.