A perfectly imperfect person!
This is a story about the girl who was always striving to be perfect, until she learnt to become the women that was real. As I look back over my life I am reminded of:
- The perfect child, who was seen but never heard.
- The girl in class, who was afraid to raise her hand for fear of getting the answer wrong.
- The undergraduate, who after leaving a promising career was determined that she needed to get a 2:1 or above and pushed herself hard, to prove she could.
- The student, who worked through the night for days leading up to the deadline of her dissertation, re-editing time and time again because it had to be ‘just right’.
- The master’s student, who despite holding down a demanding job, playing house and trying to put together a broken relationship still wouldn’t defer by a year, because she had to keep it all together. If she couldn’t do or be everything to everyone, she’d failed.
- The partner, who turned into the perfect domestic goddess because she thought that was who he wanted her to be.
- The manager, who spent long, lonely nights in the office, particularly before a holiday, finishing off because she had to leave everything just so. Delegating but retaining control over the output for fear that someone wouldn’t deliver to her high standards.
- The leader, who had a vision, yet walked the path alone.
In 2015, Sanctuary surveyed 1,064 women and found: ‘7/10 women in the UK feel under pressure to be the ‘perfect woman’.
I did feel the pressure to prove myself, prove my worth, be successful, and have it all. Driven by fear; fear of being found out, of being revealed as a fraud, of not being good enough.
There were benefits. It gave me a sense of control and presented the image to the world that I had it all together. Ultimately though, my drive for perfectionism cost me. It cost me time off work with stress because I couldn’t cope with everything. It cost me my relationship, because I didn’t dare show who I really was with all my insecurities and imperfections. It cost me my sense of self.
It also took me years to realise that in my drive to be the perfect version of myself, I was not only causing myself a lot of pain and suffering, but I was in fact failing. An enlightening leadership retreat pointed out to me that in my quest to be perfect, I was failing to live authentically and I was failing as a leader. In trying to earn the recognition and respect I craved, I lost my power.
Things needed to change. The costs were just too great. So I’m trying a new strategy:
- 8/10 is my new perfect and good is good enough.
- I try to do less and be more. To be more present, to be more playful, to be more real and ultimately to be enough.
- I’m learning to accept me.
I still dip my toe into the waters of perfectionism especially when I feel out of control, but I recognise it now and I’m working on it. Working on becoming myself - to risk myself more, to say no, to trust myself, to let go of control, to show my vulnerability, to ask for what I need, to speak up and to own my voice. In the process I’m learning who I am.
Am I perfect at it? You bet I’m not. I fall many times, but I get back up, brush myself off and keep trying. It’s the only way to be free.