As women docs, many of us struggle with the concept of perfectionism. Perfectionism is one of the ways that many of us have been able to get to our level of success. It can, at times, be the one thing that separates us from our classmates or colleagues and can be worn as a badge of honor.
But striving to live a life of perfection is almost assuredly a guarantee of failure. As perfectionists, we tend to be hard on ourselves when we aren’t perfect at something or when we don’t achieve the intended result.
However, not being perfect and not getting the intended result is part of the human experience.
As a recovering perfectionist, I’m here to share with you that this badge of honor is one we don’t have to wear. You can learn to let perfectionism go. I want you to come to believe that done is better than perfect and the peace of mind you receive by letting go of perfectionism is life-changing and worth it.
What is Perfectionism?
Perfectionism is the refusal to accept anything short of perfection. I don’t know who may have started the “rule” of having to be perfect for us women, but I know it has become a shortcoming for many of us.
We have been told we have to do things twice as good as our male colleagues to get any kind of attention. And when we get the positive external rewards from it, being “perfect” makes us believe we have to reach that same standard again to get similar accolades.
Pause for a minute and ask yourself if this is something you’ve personally experienced or been led to believe. Even though this may be a belief you are holding onto, do you truly believe it is true?
Does this message of perfectionism mean that you have to actually be perfect? Or can it also mean that we can do really great work?
Is there truly a difference between perfect and really great work?
Consider this question carefully. I recommend you ponder that for yourself because perfectionism is often a standard we set for ourselves in our own minds based on what we think others may expect from us.
Why Perfectionism is Hurting You
Somewhere on the perfectionist path, the strategy of being “perfect” can become a real serious personal problem. It can lead to the road of never-ending stress. It can lead to us not loving ourselves because we fall short of meeting the standard of perfection.
By holding ourselves to an impossible standard and tearing ourselves down when we don’t meet our own expectations we are headed to burnout and exhaustion. As doctors, we know what physically happens in our bodies when we are stressed and exhausted.
So with knowing all that, why is it that we still believe that being perfect is the way to go?
Learning to Recognize Perfectionism in Ourselves
I remember many days and nights where I would deliberate over a presentation, community project or even charting because I just wanted everything to be amazingly perfect. Even with the best attempts, I still found frustrating imperfections in my “perfect work” from things like a simple typo.
This whole process of perfection eventually became exhausting for me.
I would experience this over and over again until I saw that doing my best would just have to be enough because being perfect was halting my progress and overtaking my mind.
I had to realize that I could only do so much and that I was only human after all. Humans make mistakes.
Take a minute to think about a recent experience where you felt exhausted or frustrated at your lack of “perfection”.
Now, think about an alternate ending. What would it have looked like for it to have been “really good” instead of “perfect”? Could you have still been happy? Would your patient have still received the care that they needed? Would the presentation still be successful?
Visualizing can be an important part of letting go of perfectionism. When you are in the middle of that overwhelm or frustration, take a minute to stop and visualize that alternate ending. What do you need to do, so you can focus more on getting done and less on being perfect?
You Don’t Have to Do This Alone
If you find that you suffer from perfectionism, you are not alone. Many of us have been there and done that. And now may be the right time to escape it.
You have permission to stop putting so much pressure on yourself. We are here to support you in your recovery at Women in White Coats. We are here to be your sisters and cheerleaders.
Because we want you to not stress about the small stuff anymore. Letting go of perfectionism is life-changing and worth it. We want you to be present. We want you to live free. We want you to enjoy your life.
This is my hope for you STARTING TODAY. Sending you lots of love and hugs.
If you need personalized encouragement and guidance, Women in White Coats is here for you. We have certified physician life coaches available to help you discover how to move through perfectionism and into a present life. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a clarity coaching call.
Amber Robins, MD, MBA is a board-certified family physician, lifestyle medicine doctor, and the creator of “The Chronicles of Women in White Coats” book series. She also is a best-selling author, diversity equity and inclusion specialist, brand and business coach, physician journalist, co-founder of the Women in White Coats blog.
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