Confession: I am not a perfectionist. “Good enough” and “okay for now” are sometimes the highest my bar gets set. On the other hand, I’m absolutely mortified if I find a typo on something I’ve already sent out. Go figure.

I think women have a greater challenge with perfection than men. Why?  Are we hard-wired to be more critical of ourselves (and of other women)?  Does that criticism turn into feelings of inadequacy?

The chasm between male and female perfectionists in the workplace is common, partly due to gender labeling (he’s a leader, she’s a a bitch), and partly due to the differing standards men and women set for themselves at work.

Is the strive for perfection a good thing or a bad thing?

I used to know someone (his name rhymes with “ex-husband”) who often let his desire for perfection lead to paralysis.  I remember one January when he decided to set up all of our household files for the year.  He bought the folders and he bought a label-maker.  And as the papers started to accumulate on the desk, January turned into February, which turned into March.  You get the picture.  He didn’t have the time to make the labels so the paperwork just sat and sat.

Okay, now that I’ve vented (thank you), I want to pose another question:  Can our own high standards be mistaken for a need to be perfect?  I hope not.  I think that having high standards connects us with the bigger picture, while striving for perfection causes us to get stuck in the minutia.

Maybe there’s some middle ground.  As women are climbing up the corporate ladder, often for the first time in their fields or companies, there is a greater anxiety to achieve what we think is expected of us.  When we assume the expectations of others (key word here is “assume”), there is a greater likelihood of selling ourselves short.  Some people may refer to this as “self-sabotage.”  If we want to arrive at the middle ground between high standards and perfectionism, it’s probably a good idea for us to figure out what’s expected of us.  Before diving into your newest project at work, there’s likely more to understand than just the deadline.  Ask some questions, do some homework, and decide for yourself when you’ve gathered enough information to begin.

Does the desire for perfection also occur at home?  How often do you consider yourself to be a perfect parent or spouse?  What happens when the cheesecake you’ve spent all day making for a dinner party winds up cracking or sinking in the middle?  (That’s actually happened to me.)

If your desire for perfection is interfering with your happiness, here are three things I’ve learned in my own journey:

  1.  Work on becoming more flexible.
  2.  Instead of judging yourself, figure out what you’ve learned from your own mistakes.
  3.  Flip the switch when you realize you’re comparing yourself to someone else.

Feel free to add to my list by commenting below.