Articles // March 02,2023

Breaking the Mould of Perfectionism: Balancing Contentment and Growth for Women in Leadership

By Meenakshi Girish, Editor: Chandrani Datta

Lila had always been a high achiever. In school, she excelled in academics, sports, and extracurricular activities. After graduating from a top university, she landed a job at a prestigious consulting firm. She was one of the few women in her department, and she felt the weight of responsibility to prove herself. She worked long hours, taking on more and more projects, always striving for perfection in everything she did. Lila’s quest for perfection didn’t stop at work. She also felt pressure to maintain a perfect appearance, have a perfect social life and be the perfect daughter, sister, and friend.

Every day, Lila maintained a rigorous routine. She would wake up early to hit the gym, meticulously plan her outfits, and make sure her hair and makeup were flawless. She would then head to work, where she would obsess over every detail of her projects, constantly checking and double-checking her work to make sure it was perfect.

In her free time, Lila would attend networking events, and dinner parties, always putting on a perfect facade of confidence and grace. Despite all of Lila’s efforts, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was falling short. She would compare herself to her male colleagues, who seemed to juggle work and personal life effortlessly without breaking a sweat. She would also compare herself to her social media friends, who appeared to have perfect lives and perfect relationships. With time, she realised that despite everything she was not happy. She was exhausted, anxious, and lonely.

Lila isn’t one woman, Lila represents most women around us. From their careers to their relationships, women like Lila are constantly striving for perfection in all areas of their lives to give their best in every aspect and meet societal expectations. Women executives, like Lila, are often expected to be successful in their careers and climb the corporate ladder but are also expected to be nurturing and caring mothers and wives. They are often expected to manage the household, including cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing, even when they have full-time jobs.

This expectation can create a sense of guilt or inadequacy in women who struggle to balance their career ambitions with their family responsibilities. Ultimately, it creates a sense of overwhelm and exhaustion for corporate women who are trying to balance work and home responsibilities. With time, they become nurturers and emotional caretakers in their relationships, providing support and empathy to their partners. This often leads to emotional burnout.

“The worst aspect is how women in leadership roles are held to impossible beauty standards, such as having a certain body type, clear skin, and perfect hair. I was always told to wear high heels at work so I can physically look as tall and in charge as my male counterparts. Any plus-size women in my office were not taken seriously while very short ones were often interrupted during meetings. The pressure to conform to these standards can lead to body image issues, low self-esteem, and even eating disorders,” said a corporate leader from India.

What does this result in?

These unrealistic expectations lead to perfection fallacy, which can be detrimental to a woman’s mental health, career growth, and personal development. Combatting perfection fallacy requires a deeper understanding of the balance between not having it all and stretching for growth.

The perfection fallacy is the belief that a woman must be perfect in every aspect of her life, whether it’s her career, relationships, or personal life. This fallacy creates an unattainable standard that leads to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Women often feel the need to prove themselves and to live up to societal expectations, which can cause immense pressure and stress.

The road ahead – How do we beat this fallacy?

 To combat the perfection fallacy, it’s important to understand that no one can have it all. It’s impossible to be perfect in every area of life and striving for perfection only leads to burnout and frustration.

Instead, it’s important to focus on what’s truly important and prioritize accordingly. This means that women should identify their core values and goals and focus on achieving those goals, rather than trying to be perfect in every aspect of their lives.

At the same time, it’s important to stretch for growth. This means that women in leadership should push themselves outside of their comfort zones and challenge themselves to grow and learn.

Growth requires taking risks and making mistakes, which can be uncomfortable and even scary at times. However, it’s through these challenges that women can truly learn and develop their skills and abilities.

Aim for growth and progress, not perfection

 The key to balancing is not having it all and stretching for growth is to focus on progress, not perfection. Focus on the journey and learn from it rather than staying focused on just arriving at the goal. The idea is that instead of striving for perfection, women can focus on making progress toward their goals.

Celebrate the small wins along the way and recognize that growth and development take time. It’s important to be patient with yourself and to give yourself grace when things don’t go as planned.

Surround yourself with supportive people

Another way to combat the perfection fallacy is to surround yourself with supportive people. Having a strong support system can help you stay grounded and remind you that you’re not alone in your struggles.

This can be friends, family, or even a mentor or coach who can offer guidance and support as you navigate your personal and professional growth. At the end of your day, you are your cheerleader and if you don’t support yourself, nobody will. The first person who believes in you must be yourself.

Stay physically and mentally fit

It’s important to take care of yourself both physically and mentally. This means getting enough sleep, eating well, staying in touch with your loved ones, and engaging in self-care activities like exercise or meditation. This helps in emotional regulation and stabilizes responses to different situations in life.

Taking care of your physical health can help you feel more energized and focused. On the other hand, taking care of your mental health can help you stay positive and resilient in the face of challenges. Both these aspects go hand in hand and you will notice how far your body and mind is interconnected.

Redefine what success means to you

Finally, it’s important to redefine success. Success is not just about achieving a certain level of perfection, but about personal growth and fulfilment. Women in leadership roles should define success for themselves, based on their values and goals, rather than trying to live up to societal expectations.

Maybe your idea of success is to just wake up in a good mood rather than at 6 am. Or maybe you consider it a win if you eat healthy for at least one of three meals. It is important to understand your needs and values and then be intentional in your choices to live a life aligned to those values. It makes no sense to allow others to project their ideas of success to make you reconsider yours. Stick to your goals and principles to ensure you are working towards your success and results. You can also consult a leadership coach to guide you in your women empowerment journey.

Journey towards effective leadership

 The perfection fallacy is a mindset that affects many women by crafting a sense of pressure to be flawless. It leads to various physical and mental disorders resulting in anxiety, stress, and burnout. One study published in the Journal of Leadership Education found that women leaders who exhibited high levels of perfectionism experienced more stress and job burnout than their male counterparts. The study also found that women who were less perfectionistic were more likely to be effective leaders. To combat this mindset, it is crucial to understand that growth is a process that requires time and effort.

No one can have it all, and it is essential to set realistic goals that align with your values and passions. Instead of striving for perfection, women can aim to improve themselves continually, one step at a time, and focus on progress, not perfection.

Breaking free from the perfection fallacy requires a deeper understanding of self-acceptance and self-compassion. Women must recognize that making mistakes and facing failures is part of the growth process. Rather than beating themselves up over their shortcomings, women can learn from their mistakes and use them as opportunities for growth.

Additionally, it is crucial to develop a support system of like-minded individuals who can provide encouragement, motivation, and constructive feedback. By doing so, women can create an environment of positivity and growth, which helps them overcome the perfection fallacy.

Achieving personal and professional fulfillment requires finding the balance between striving for growth and accepting limitations. By setting realistic goals, focusing on progress, and developing a support system, women can break free from the perfection fallacy and achieve their full potential.

It is essential to embrace imperfection, learn from failures, and celebrate successes, no matter how small. By doing so, women leaders and executives can create a fulfilling life that aligns with their values, passions, and purpose. If you want to know more about striking the right balance, reach out to us.

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