• Lorri

Perfection Paralysis

Updated: Nov 8, 2018



I remember it all too well. It was the week the final project for my Master’s program was due. I was, frankly, having a bit of a meltdown. Madly working (or rather, overworking), trying to perfect my project, it felt like I was running without getting anywhere. I was frustrated with the work and details were holding me back from completion. Finally, my wise friend Kathy gave me a piece of advice I’ll never forget: “It’s better to be done than perfect.”

It’s advice that may seem counterintuitive to a lot of you. It sure felt that way to me. But Kathy was right. I was so focused on making certain details perfect that it was holding me back from completing the project altogether. I had to ask myself, why was I holding myself back from completing this important step that would close the chapter on earning my Master’s degree?

I use the term ‘Perfection Paralysis’ a lot; it describes what happens when we get so worried about being perfect that the task at hand ends up taking too long and dies incomplete. In doing so, another great idea withers on the vine and we add the incomplete project onto our inner trash heap labeled ‘Life’s Disappointments’.

It’s a well researched and documented fact that perfectionism disproportionately affects women. Authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman deconstruct perfectionism in women in their book The Confidence Code, and in reading you’ll discover that the lack of confidence women experience is the fuel that drives perfectionism. Smart, driven women are often workaholics because of a fear of criticism. They put in twice the work as their male counterparts as a way of bolstering their confidence, so they feel (over) prepared when they walk into an executive suite full of men. For these women, their work is regarded as excellent and they’re often promoted, given more responsibility and people to manage. Unfortunately for these women, this method of working is not sustainable. Operating on overdrive invariably leads to burn out, which often extends to burnout within her work team.

In The Confidence Code, we learned that men overestimate their abilities on average 30% higher than women do. It’s not that men do better work or are better prepared; systemic, social and cultural conditioning have trained men to assume, and behave with, more