Purge Perfectionism

I was invited to speak at Raymond James’ Women in Capital Markets Conference in January of this year. I was excited to hear that Claire Shipman was the keynote speaker. She with Katty Kay co-authored the Confidence Code. In her talk, Shipman recounted interviews she and Kay conducted with some of the most powerful women in the world, one of whom was Christine Lagarde who runs the International Monetary Fund.

Lagarde admitted that she worries about getting caught off guard in her many business interactions and at times has to dig deep to gain her confidence to assert a particular point. Her way of addressing this momentary lapse in confidence is to over-prepare. What was even more interesting is that Lagarde shared that she and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor and another of the world’s most powerful women, do the same thing. Both women have developed the same habit of scrutinizing every aspect of work to “be completely on top of everything.” Lagarde confessed, “It’s very time consuming!”

Many women tend to overthink a situation. Instead of acting on what they believe or know, women adopt some form of over-analyzing.  Perhaps it’s because little girls are still taught to be “good/perfect” and some of us get addicted to pleasing others. Evidence shows that females in general are more risk adverse than men; part of this stems from women being taught the importance of being perfect. Perfectionism is an obstacle to acting confidently. Possessing perfectionist tendencies puts you at risk for developing obsessive compulsive disorders ranging from substance abuse, chronic stress, workaholism, eating disorders and depression.

Perfectionism is sometimes justified as just having high standards. After all, who can say they don’t want high standards? Are your standards realistic? Are you disappointed in yourself because you don’t feel like you’re achieving all you had hoped? Are you fearful that what you can deliver isn’t good enough? If so, you may have crossed the line from having high standards to perfectionism.

One of the best antidotes for perfectionism is acceptance. Acceptance involves silencing the inner critic that points out flaws and fears. Realize that your inner critic is an unhelpful mental habit and that you can develop a new one. When you hear the inner critic, thank it for sharing and stress that you are choosing another way of thinking about the situation, one that is accepting, affirming and empowering.