Throughout my life I was always striving to be perfect – an unachievable aim but a self-imposed one. I was:

  • the perfect child, seen but never heard
  • the adolescent who was afraid to raise her hand in class for fear that she would get the answer wrong
  • the undergraduate who was determined to prove she could get a 2:1 or above, working through the night up to the deadline of her dissertation, re-editing time and time again because it had to be ‘just right’  
  • the master’s student who, despite holding down a demanding job, playing house and trying to put together a broken relationship, still wouldn’t defer for a year, because she had to keep it all together. If she couldn’t do or be everything for everyone, she’d failed
  • the partner who turned into the perfect domestic goddess because she thought that was who he wanted her to be
  • the colleague who spent long lonely nights in the office – particularly before a holiday – because she had to leave everything just so
  • the manager known for delegating while retaining control over output for fear that someone else wouldn’t deliver to her high standards
  • the leader who had a vision, yet walked the path alone
In 2015, seven out of 10 women in the UK feel under pressure to be the ‘perfect woman’.

Statistic from 2015 Sanctuary survey. Sample: 1,064 women.

I did feel the pressure to prove myself, prove my worth, be successful, and have it all. I was driven by fear – fear of being found out, of being revealed as a fraud, of not being good enough.

There were benefits. I had a sense of control and presented the image to the world that I had it all together.  

Ultimately, though, my drive for perfection cost me. It cost me time off work with stress because I couldn’t cope with everything. It cost me my relationship because I didn’t dare show who I really was, with all my insecurities and imperfections. It cost me my sense of self.

It also took me years to realise that in my drive to be the perfect version of myself, I was not only causing myself a lot of pain and suffering, but I was, in fact, failing. An enlightening leadership retreat pointed out to me that in my quest to be perfect, I was failing to live authentically. In trying to earn the recognition and respect I craved, I lost my power.

Things needed to change. The costs were just too great. So I’m trying a new strategy: 

  1. Eight out of 10 is my new perfect, and good is good enough.
  2. I try to DO less and BE more. To be more present, to be more playful, to be more real and ultimately to be enough.
  3. I’m learning to accept me.

I still dip my toe into the waters of perfectionism, especially when I feel out of control. But I recognise it now and I’m working on it. Working on becoming myself means risking myself more, saying ‘no’, trusting myself, letting go of control, showing my vulnerability, asking for what I need, speaking up, and owning my voice. In the process I’m learning who I am.,

Am I perfect at it? You bet I’m not. I fall many times, but I get back up, brush myself off and keep trying. It’s the only way to be free.