Be the perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect friend, perfect boss, perfect hostess… the pressure to be perfect is everywhere in a woman’s life.
Is the road to happiness paved with perfection, or are women somehow being deceived? Martha Stewart has built a phenomenally successful empire around perfectionism. I think it’s harder for women since Martha came along.
It’s exhausting just to think about the “P-word”. We think that everyone knows that perfection is non-existent. If that’s true, then why is it so difficult for many of us to stop tilting at windmills?
Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter said, “Once you accept that you are not perfect, then you develop some confidence.” That profound comment raises this question: Is it possible that there is a link between perfectionism and lack of confidence?
Consider the woman who is late because she is not satisfied with her appearance. I have been guilty of wasting precious time by changing my clothes, jewelry, shoes; or relentlessly fussing with my hair and makeup. Worse yet, I admit I have actually decided it’s all too difficult, and I will just stay home.
Perfectionism, lack of confidence and procrastination are unconscious ways of being that undermine our success and happiness.
We don’t usually procrastinate about something we know we are really skilled at. Instead, we dive right in for the pleasure and satisfaction of the achievement.
We drag our feet when we are challenged and unsure of our ability. When we are unsure, we decide it has to be perfect or not at all. Often we just give up before we even begin.
When Alice D. Domar, Ph.D., wrote her book in 2008, Be Happy Without Being Perfect, she coined the term “perfection deception”. It’s noteworthy that Newsweek and Time magazine both interviewed Dr. Domar about the price of perfectionism.
The perfection deception that Dr. Domar referred to is familiar to every woman I have ever known. As American women, we are conditioned through years of exposure and media bombardment to believe that completely unrealistic expectations are attainable.
Dr. Domar had a patient who watched Martha Stewart’s Thanksgiving special and purchased every item Martha offered. Despite her effort and expense, her table didn’t look like Martha’s.
We have been trained to think it is because of our flaws and weaknesses that we can’t live up to the image of what we should be, how our homes should look, how we should raise our children and how we should do our jobs.
Dr. Domar makes the encouraging assertion that we can be happier by reframing our expectations and embracing an imperfect life.
If unrealistic expectations could be ruining your chances of ever finding peace and true happiness, I’ve gathered a few suggestions to consider:
Keep in mind that there is a huge difference between high achievers and perfectionists. High achievers are generally relaxed and realistic about their goals and, therefore, they have greater peace of mind along the way.
Perfectionists tend to set unrealistic goals which lead to disappointment, self -recrimination, and ultimately, an unhappy existence.
A step in the right direction would be putting away your list of personal shortcomings and taking an inventory of your strengths. Recall past accomplishments, your unique talents, compliments from friends, and the love and respect you have received from those closest to you.
I have actually kept a box of touching cards and emails I have received from friends and supporters. I can’t quantify how helpful reviewing their kind words of praise and thanks has been for me during some of my darker hours.
Remember that to err is human, and usually it’s our dear friend’s flaws that make them seem the most authentic and lovable to us. Never underestimate the value of authenticity. Authenticity is universally admired.
Embrace your humanity. When we try to pass ourselves off as a super-hero or action figure, we usually end up looking plastic and ridiculously robotic.
Be kind to yourself and to others. I know, oh so corny. I once heard that “we act like the person that we believe ourselves to be”. That deeply resonates with me.
If you believe that you are a kind and generous person, then that is how you will act in the world. You deserve that same generosity toward yourself. Be kind to you.
When you compare yourself to others, please be graciously fair to yourself. Give yourself credit for all your admirable qualities, and grant yourself the permission and privilege of just being who you are.
Here is an adage I heard years ago, which I have never forgotten: “All I can do, is all I can do, and that is enough”. We all are good enough.
Cheryl Alexandra Michaels is divorced and lives in Bend, Oregon. She is the mother of two adult sons. She is training to become a mentor/coach for women over 40 who are in transition; with an emphasis on seeing divorce as a spiritual catalyst for living a happier, healthier life.