The Top 2 Downsides of Perfectionism in Women

How does perfectionism in women develop? What are the downsides of trying to be perfect?

In How Women Rise, Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith explain that women tend to strive for perfection because success boosts their confidence and society views failure as disgraceful. Further, they feel they need to go above and beyond to be seen as successful.

Let’s take a deeper look at how women handle unrealistic expectations by trying to be flawless.

Women Try to Be Perfect

Perfectionism in women causes them to overwork themselves, experience negative emotions, damage relationships, and focus on details that may not be important in the long term.

Helgesen and Goldsmith discuss two main detrimental behaviors that result from perfectionism. 

Behavior #1: Unrealistic Expectations

In pursuit of perfection, women tend to develop unrealistically high expectations for themselves, which impedes their progress in numerous ways. First, unrealistically high expectations cause high levels of stress and strong negative emotions when those expectations aren’t met. Overly high expectations also cause women to hyper-focus on small details in pursuit of perfection, which can prevent them from reaching their big-picture goals. Perfectionists tend to avoid taking risks due to their fear of failure, which can disrupt their ability to advance their careers—as the authors point out, risk-taking is a sought-after leadership quality because it enhances innovation.

Perfectionism may also damage perfectionists’ reputations and relationships. First, they often have unrealistically high expectations of others as well as themselves, which may cause people to become resentful. Second, their high expectations constantly stress them out, which also stresses out the people around them.

Unrealistic Expectations: The Solutions

The authors suggest a few solutions to overcome the negative impacts of having unrealistic expectations.

1. Let go of control. Trust other people to use their skills and knowledge to complete tasks, rather than trying to do everything yourself or constantly looking over people’s shoulders to achieve “perfect” results.

2. Learn to prioritize. Instead of focusing on perfecting every detail, identify the most important things you need to focus on to produce satisfactory results. Delegate tasks that don’t require your direct attention.

3. Get comfortable taking risks. You don’t need to do anything that will put your career on the line, but start taking risks that have a high probability of success.

Behavior #2: Inability to Prepare for the Future

The authors explain that women’s tendency to focus on perfection often causes them to focus so much on the present that they neglect to plan for the future.

First, perfectionist women often want to achieve mastery at their current positions to feel and be seen by others as capable. However, spending so much time being perfect at their current position often prevents them from spending time planning and acquiring the skills necessary to progress to the next step in their careers. 

Further, some women are so focused on mastery and their personal performance that they neglect to build their social network. As we learned previously, having strong connections is crucial for career advancement

Inability to Prepare for the Future: Solutions

The authors recommend a few solutions to let go of mastery so you can focus on the future.

1. Understand that mastery is only one type of power. Women crave mastery because they want to be powerful and valuable, but the authors explain that mastery alone isn’t enough to achieve this. There are three other types of power: contacts, charisma, and position. Useful contacts can help you accomplish goals and make progress, charisma will influence others to see you as credible, and your position in the company hierarchy dictates your authority.

2. Focus on building useful contacts immediately. Identify people in your organization who can help you develop the skills and relationships that will help you achieve your career goals. This can be peers who support and encourage you or higher-ups who serve as mentors and advocates. The more contacts you have, the more valuable you’ll be—you’ll be seen as sociable and able to help others build their social network by connecting them with your contacts. 

The Top 2 Downsides of Perfectionism in Women

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith's "How Women Rise" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full How Women Rise summary:

  • The limiting mindset many women develop that stunts their careers
  • The four thought patterns that women need to break free from
  • Why striving for perfectionism is asking for failure

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *