The superwoman balancing act – how perfectionism sets us up to fail

We are all on a mission to be the best we can be, to be happy, to have the perfect houses, families, partners, and jobs, to complete our to-do lists, to complete our bucket lists, to make our parents proud, to get promoted, earn more money, and be successful. Good enough is no longer enough. We live in a world where we are so developed, we can have everything and instant gratification. Normal is what we have, but it’s not what we want to settle for—it’s no longer enough. We expect to have everything and for the fairy tale to be a reality, and it won’t be. We set ourselves up to fail; our imperfect lives (which are the best they can be) are never going to be perfect. We aim for perfection and are then disappointed because it never arrives.

All this against a backdrop of not quite feeling good enough those nagging feelings of self-doubt.  According to the International Journal of behavioural science 70% of us think we’re not as good as others believe we are, it’s called Imposter Syndrome.  It’s exacerbated by our fear of failure, trying to please everyone around us, striving for perfection but worried we’re falling short all rolled into one!  It’s particularly prevalent in women and given rise to these superwomen tendencies that so often end up in busyness, burnout and breakdown.

Woman are good at being perfectionists; this comes from our need to please people but also our very high standards and expectations of ourselves. It can be a strength and what makes us good at what we do, but can also be our undoing. It’s where we set ourselves up to fail, expect too much, and lose touch with reality, and where the bar actually is – often we raise it far higher than it needs to be. 

Perfectionism is also our fear of failure manifesting. Sometimes our self-doubt means we’re so scared of not making the mark or falling short that we go way over what’s necessary, work twice as hard, to make sure we don’t fail. Whether we’re applying for a job, having our hair done, going to the gym, or just doing our day jobs. We want to be the perfect parents, workers, friends, and partners; we want to look like a perfect cover of a magazine and live in perfectly clean, tidy houses with perfect lawns. 

We place massively unfair expectations on ourselves. To work hard at work but not feel guilty if we can’t be at the school gates at 3pm everyday or to be a good mother and not feel bad for arriving to work at 9am. Much of this guilt comes from ourselves – we feel bad for leaving at 3pm even if we arrived at 7 – we worry what others will think and we are constantly trying to prove ourselves worthy.

It’s no wonder we’re so busy and can never find time for ourselves.  We are so busy in our modern world, the pace of life has quickened, expectations are higher and we’re all trying to do more things in less time. We have this superwoman complex where we try to juggle multiple roles in life all masterfully – with overflowing to do lists and excessive demands on our time – there’s never enough hours in the day.

We’ve also attached our self-worth to being busy.  It means we’re needed and valued and that we’re contributing.  Often is can be martyrdom at play as we struggle through our busy lives feeling secretly pleased the family/workplace might crumble without us.  So we wear busy like a badge of honour and attach our identity and worth to society in just how busy we are – this means we’ve deprioritised rest, relaxation, time out and anything that is the converse of busy – no wonder burnout is becoming more common!

Often its our own high expectations that drive this behaviour – especially if we’re perfectionists.  So what can we do about it?

Top Tips

It’s not about not doing our best or lowering the bar but resetting it to a realistic level.. Understanding the difference between excellence and greatness and perfect and what is achievable in reality.  If we’re perfect in one area of life there’s bound to be another far from perfect that’s not getting the attention it needs!

  • Give yourself permission to make mistakes – we are human
  • Knowing that we don’t have to be superwomen to be enough and to be worthy
  • Stop comparing to others
  • Putting ourselves first for a change
  • Making time for self-care – balance the busyness and build resilience
  • Leverage your strengths rather than trying to be good at everything
  • Asking for help when you need it and delegating tasks (both at work and at home)
  • The to-do list will never be complete.
  • You’re doing the best you can with what you’ve got, and that is enough

“We don’t have to do all of it alone – we were never meant to” Brene Brown