The Perils of Perfectionism

In the corporate world, perfectionism is paramount. Every calculation, every presentation, every client interaction has to be spotless. No mistakes. No slip ups. No way, no how.

For most professional women, this ethos of perfectionism bleeds into their personal life as well -- be the perfect friend, the perfect daughter, the perfect partner. You have to be there for everyone else. You have to be the strong one. You have to hold it together...all...the...time. No mistakes. No slip ups. No way, no how.

The promise of perfectionism is captivating. Believe me - I fell for it too. When I was in corporate, I thought that perfectionism was about striving for my best. I thought that perfectionism was about caring deeply about the work that I did and the people that I had in my life. I thought that perfectionism was a symbol of my high standards. I thought that perfectionism was about integrity. And I know I wasn’t alone in thinking this way.

Many women operate based on this false belief system for YEARS. Until it stops working. Until it wears you down. Until you realize that perfectionism is punk.

Perfect is a standard that’s impossible to live up to… it sets us up for failure. it keeps us continually striving rather than thriving. it keeps us stuck in the details rather than embracing the big picture. it keeps us small.

Despite its allure, perfectionism is actually an incredibly immature and inefficient way to be in the world. Perfectionism is about pushing and prodding and plodding along. Perfectionism breeds self-judgment and self-criticism. Perfectionism is constantly trying to prove something.

We unconsciously tell ourselves:

If this presentation isn’t perfect, then I’m not good enough.

If this apartment isn’t perfect, then I’m not good enough.

If this relationship isn’t perfect, then I’m not good enough.

We use perfectionism to hide behind our fears of not being good enough -- not being a good enough boss or sister or wife. Not being a good enough cook or interior decorator. Not being a good enough yogi or runner. We are constantly coming up with reasons why we are not good enough when we measure ourselves against the “perfection” stick.

And, if we aren’t good enough, then we don’t deserve whatever goal we are trying to achieve (e.g., a loving relationship, a promotion).

I see this same pattern showing up in women trying to get pregnant:

I’m not doing enough.

I’m not eating the “right” diet or doing the exact “right” things to get pregnant.

I’m not the perfect bastion of health.

...Therefore, I don’t deserve to have a baby.

I’m here to tell you that this pursuit of perfectionism is exhausting. And, more to the point, it is incompatible with motherhood.

Perfectionism is the first thing that goes out the window when becoming a mom. There is never a “perfect” time to get pregnant. There is no “perfect” way to do pregnancy. There is no “perfect” method of parenting (though some people may tell you so). In fact, perfect and parenting probably shouldn’t even be uttered in the same sentence. It’s just not possible..nor desirable. You do the best that you can with the information and resources that you have available to you at the time.

Motherhood is messy. Life is messy. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you can get on to living.

And, particularly as it relates to pregnancy, get rid of your notions of the “perfect” timeline (i.e., you’ll go off of birth control today and then give yourself three months to normalize your cycles and then get pregnant within three months after that). Get rid of your notions of the “perfect” conception (i.e., it has to happen in this certain way). Get rid of your conceptions of the “perfect” birth (i.e., it has to be on the due date, it has to be a water birth).

Being “perfect” doesn’t make you any more likely to get pregnant. In fact, it probably makes you less likely to conceive (given how the stress response interferes with your hormones and therefore, your ability to get and stay pregnant).

If you are a professional woman who’s used to operating at 110%, I’d encourage you to choose a different way to be in the world starting today.

Be intentional, not obsessive.

Be focused on the “what” (e.g., getting pregnant), not necessarily the “how” (e.g., when, which method).

Be progressing, not perfecting.

Do your best. That’s all you’ve got anyway.

You can’t be both perfect and a mom. You have to pick one. Which do you choose?