We all know there is no such thing as being perfect, yet so many of us still strive for it and push others toward it too. Why?
The rate of perfectionism in girls has skyrocketed over the last ten years. It’s rare for me to have a female client who isn’t trying to be perfect. The ability to not make mistakes. To get the highest grade. To be better than everyone else. These are the messages our young girls receive in today’s society.
The problem is they can’t achieve these goals. Because of that, it leaves young girls feeling less than successful every single day. Everyday they get up, and the first thing they think about is how to not make mistakes, how to win, how to get A+’s and how to be better than everyone else. I don’t know about you, but I can’t even do those things and I am almost 56 years of age.
There’s no such thing as perfect. It’s not how to make life better. For most girls trying to attain perfection keeps them at an arm’s distance from truly succeeding and being happy.
Why do girls fall prey to perfection?
1. The Need to Be Liked – Young girls strive for perfection because it igets them praise, recognition and admiration. They think, “If I can do this then everyone will like me.” Positive feedback is important, but girls can’t live without it. Many girls have an obsessive need for it. It’s a big part of what feeds them.
2. The Wrong Motivation – Girls are looking for something that’s outside of themselves to make them happy and will do just about anything to make that happen. This includes other people – coaches, parents and other girls but also includes trophies, medals, rankings and winning. Winning in and of itself isn’t totally external or perfectionistic but girls seem to always want to win and it’s all they can think about.
3. Control – Too many girls think, “If I plan and structure everything out then I can control my fear of the unknown.” One of my young female clients had been doing well. As a matter of fact until school shut down last year she reported feeling the best she’d ever felt. But the structure she had developed became a crutch for staving off fear and anxiety. When school shut down and she was isolated at home that structure was absent. She didn’t know what to do, and it sent her spiraling out of control.
What to do about the cycle of perfection?
Help girls make mistakes and learn that mistakes are OK. Nothing bad is going to happen to them. People will still like them. We need to help them understand that they will learn from their mistakes and come out even stronger.
Help girls understand that winning isn’t everything. It’s a good thing. It’s fun to win, but they won’t always win. That doesn’t mean they can’t work hard, grow and be competitive. It means that they stay grounded in the process, do the best they can and sometimes they’ll win because of it.
Getting good grades is important but is the A+ what’s really important? All the other stuff in the quest for the A+ – learning how to do something hard, asking for help, raising a hand when they have a question, getting through test anxiety, working as part of a team – that’s what’s important. Show girls they can continue to want to get better, not for someone else but for themselves. They can challenge themselves to expand, grow and be better tomorrow than they were today.
When girls work toward something in a less than perfect way they are grounded in their own values, beliefs and passions. There’ll always be more to do. More to know. More to be. Let girls know they don’t need to be perfect to make those things happen. They will be more successful and way happier knowing they worked toward something they wanted and were able to achieve it.