A Superwoman’s Weakness: Perfectionism

Perfectionism: refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.

Without question, women are superheroes.  As a black woman I possess this additional layer to complicate the programming of my perfectionist nature.  Culturally, this standard of pushing through and showing up with excellence to appease others is an all too familiar concept.  Many in my generation and before were taught to show up differently in professional settings otherwise we wouldn’t be accepted.  We were taught not to speak or to use a timid voice to reframe an opinion for the majority in the room so that we wouldn’t be labeled as angry, confrontational, or difficult.  It’s a tough line to tow:  Trying to make your mark in the world but being told that you cannot show up as your full self. Teaching us not to accept the fullness of how we were created.  Talk about an identity crisis!

Regardless of your ethnic background, perfectionism does not discriminate.  When we become leaders, we are often exposed – Both our positive and limiting traits.  The exposure to our staff is one issue but the true challenge is when we are revealed to ourselves.  Leadership will require us to take a good look in the mirror – Especially when we aren’t attaining the outcomes or rapport/trust building with our staff and colleagues.

Perfectionism is disguised as over-achieving in most.  As with most characteristics, there is a degree of behavior that will vary for everyone.  Here are some ways that it may show up in one’s professional life.

  • Taking an unusually long amount of time to complete a simple task to ensure there are no flaws.
  • Procrastination – Delayed completion of a task because of the WORRY of not completing it perfectly.
  • No task is considered complete until it is completed to their level of perfection.

A Supervisor/Manager will display perfectionism as listed above and include:

  • Refusing to delegate tasks to staff with the worry that they will not complete it to their standard even though the employee is completely capable and competent.
  • If they do delegate a task, then they micro-manage and focus on a minor imperfection instead of the totality of the good work of the project.
  • Projects often bottle-neck at their desk because they have not entrusted or empowered anyone else to assist -OR- they mull over every detail of the project.

People often disguise perfectionism with their innate nature.  For example, an introvert will state that their delay to make decisions is due to a need to process information. While another will assign their lack inability to delegate tasks to not overwhelm their team.  The truth is that they are going in circles and procrastinating with decision making, reviewing every intricate detail of the task for a mistake, and don’t trust others to complete tasks because they don’t trust themselves either.  The goal? To fix the error before anyone else does.  You might be thinking, “There is nothing wrong with wanting to do a good job!” and you’re right!  Here is when it becomes concerning – when one obsesses over the topic.  For example: taking 30 minutes to send a 3-line e-mail. Or when working on a task where one feels so incompetent that they struggle to varying tasks at each juncture.  “Feeling” incompetent is very different than actually “being” incompetent. Often, a perfectionist is not incompetent, they just haven’t met their personal standard of perfection.  A perfectionist thrives on being the person that knows EVERYTHING about the topic.  When it’s showtime in a meeting or when submitting a proposal there is much anxiety about how it will be received.  Their concern?  Being asked a question that they don’t have the answer to or someone identifying an error in their work.  The entire project may have been exceptional, but that one error will be the focus afterwards which can introduce and exacerbate anxiety.

Suiteheart, do you have perfectionist behaviors that are surfacing in your personal or professional life?  Here are a few ideas to get you on track.

  • Start even when unsure – Just do it! Look at any bumps in the road as an opportunity to learn.
  • Normalize course correction – Leaving room in your project/task to make changes when needed is essential.
  • Trust the skills of others – There is more than one way to get to a destination. Allow others to assist you and seek their opinion. You might identify a less stressful approach to completing a task or project.  If you are a leader, then empower your team with tasks to complete.  Give them the bottom line and non-negotiables for the task but allow them to get it done their way and see what they come up with!   You might be pleasantly surprised at the amazing skillset of your staff.
  • Discover the root of your LEARNED perfectionist nature – Therapy is a great place to start. I know that seems like the answer to everything these days.  Consider that a licensed therapist can assist you with identifying the trauma that placed you in this space and provide tools that will place you on the road to freedom.

Suiteheart, you are Superwoman, but you don’t have to be perfect!  Just simply be Superwoman and that’s perfect!

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