Why So Many Women Are Trying to Be “Perfect”
And what they could learn if they allow themselves to make mistakes
Top of the class, faultless on the job, and award-winning partners, wives and mothers. So why are so many women worried about how they perform? Why are they so afraid they aren’t the best and most prepared?
It’s true. We still live in a society where, for a woman to be chosen, she has to be really special, and her CV has to be far better and impeccable than a man’s. Yet I don’t think the reason many of us constantly challenge ourselves in the search for perfection is due only to the fact that more is demanded of us.
I think we are the ones who, above all, demand more of ourselves.
I have often heard, “I’m not sure I can do this job. I’ve never done it and I don’t feel ready.” Or: “Yes, I’m doing what I want to do, but I still have far to go. I’m not perfect.”
Even when they rise to important positions, women don’t feel that they have achieved a goal, that they can enjoy their success for a while and then maybe take a break. They immediately think about the next milestone and the tools they need to face it. It is as if the goalpost is constantly shifted forward, and the path is long and endless.
The first thing women should understand is that there is no such thing as perfection and that imperfection is far more fascinating and interesting than the model of the “wonder woman” who can do anything and never makes a mistake.
Yet why is it so difficult to accept the fact that sometimes we under-perform?
One of the reasons is a lack of self-esteem. We always need to prove that we’re good at what we do. We think we can do more, that everything we have achieved is not our own merit but a matter of luck. We can’t fully appreciate our own worth.
For example, women earn less than men. For years, we have fought for equal pay, but before engaging in this battle — and rightly so — we need to learn to measure our capabilities and not always consider them a matter of opinion. Above all, we should learn to talk about money, to assess what we do in economic terms. What is our work worth? What can we demand in exchange?
This is the first step towards gaining self-esteem. The second is thinking that it’s human - normal - to make mistakes. It doesn’t mean we’re inadequate or unprepared. Making mistakes teaches you to do things the right way; making mistakes teaches you to start over. Making mistakes can be positive if this stimulates you to understand where and why that happened. It’s not the end of the world.
The other aspect — tied to the first two — is that many women are unable to delegate to colleagues, partners or babysitters who might be able to help.
“I’d rather do it myself, just to be sure” and “I’ll work late because I want to finish the job myself” and “If I don’t check everything, I won’t sleep well” and “I’ll go pick up my kid, because when he’s with anyone else, including my husband, I worry.” How many times have we said something like this or heard our friends say it? Countless times, as we are convinced that delegating part of our responsibility to others could lead to worse results: results that some might consider catastrophic. Nothing could be further from the truth. The only outcome of this behavior is that we end up putting together too many responsibilities that often don’t mesh. And the desire for 360-degree perfection becomes impossible. The conviction that it’s best doing it all on your own, that asking others for help is wrong, ends up blocking a woman’s potential and, above all, it often hampers her career. Have we ever wondered why men leave the house and forget about everyday things, devoting themselves wholly to their jobs, while women are traditionally considered mother hens who take it all with them? It’s true that the reason often lies in the fact that everything falls on their shoulders, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes women are the ones who are unable to ask for help because they don’t trust the quality of that help.
Work-life balance is a key concept that has only recently entered into the agenda of businesses and governments. Men and women should certainly find a new balance between work and home, but — again — it is up to us women to serve as trailblazers and force ourselves to be different.
Revolutions almost always start from people and then go viral. If other women have managed to change their lives in a positive way, without denying their own nature, then we can too.
Making mistakes, delegating, being imperfect: this should be our new mantra.