Have you ever felt like you just weren’t good enough? Most of us have felt that way at one time or another. But for many teen girls, this feeling is a chronic ache and is being perpetuated by a culture that celebrates the illusion of perfection. Beyoncé sings, “perfection is a disease of a nation” and tells us pretty hurts, yet how many girls are killing themselves to be just like her? Red carpet glamor and excessive photoshopping makes girls, and women alike, strive to be perfect and contributes to the ingrained belief that we are not good enough – just the way we are.
This past spring I spoke at the Marin County Teen Girl Conference. Thirty teen girl ambassadors were planning the conference, selecting the speakers and choosing the topics. They polled girls in their schools and the #1 requested topic was how to deal with the stress of having to be perfect.
I was coaching a teen girl recently and she came onto the call unsure of what she wanted to work on. To help her get some clarity, I asked her “If you could change one thing in your life, what would that be?”
She burst out crying and said, “Everything.” She was totally overwhelmed and consumed with the erroneous belief that nothing about her was good enough.
Just this evening I had a sample coaching session with a 15 year old girl and her mom. I asked the girl, “If I had a magic wand and could wave it over you, what would you want the results of this coaching to be?”
The girl responded, “I’d want it to make me perfect.”
But it’s not just the girls who feel that way. We all have to start questioning those beliefs and each of us has to take responsibility for either adding to the problem or as Ghandi said, be the change we want to see in the world. I want to be part of the change and it has to start with me. I am so sick of trying to perfect. It’s exhausting and it hurts too much. I’ve made a commitment to let go of perfectionism and am beginning to notice all the little ways it shows up in my life.
Recently I was invited to speak at a Girls Symposium on behalf of the Fairfield County Fund for Women and Girls and the meeting planner who contacted me told me that two of their past speakers for the symposium and their annual luncheon had been Rachel Simmons, best selling author and girl empowerment expert and Dr. Maya Angelou, a celebrated poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, and civil rights activist. My first reaction was pure joy and excitement and I felt like everything I had worked towards was coming to fruition and that this group was looking for the best speaker they could find… and they found me!
Just a few months after being invited to speak at the symposium, Maya Angelou passed away and she was being honored and celebrated in articles, blog posts and television specials for the impact she had on the world. I already knew she was a great woman, but I was blown away by all of her accomplishments and discovered that Dr. Angelou served on two presidential committees, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008, and has received 3 Grammy Awards. President Clinton requested that she compose a poem to read at his inauguration in 1993. Dr. Angelou’s reading of her poem “On the Pulse of the Morning” was broadcast live around the world. Suddenly I wasn’t so excited about following in her footsteps and I became filled with fear and doubt as to my ability to inspire and present at the Girls Symposium. Surely I was no Maya Angelou.
My mind started racing and it turned on me with a barrage of enemy fire, telling me that I just wasn’t good enough and doing its damnedest convincing myself that I would surely fail. I compared myself to Maya and Rachel Simmons, knowing full well that I would never measure up, as I struggled to come up with the “perfect” presentation that would make me as good as they were.
Then I remembered the commitment I made to myself about allowing myself to be perfectly imperfect and to start loving and accepting myself – just the way I am. I paused, took a deep breath and said a prayer. I asked God to remove this affliction that was getting in the way of my usefulness to others.
The very next day, during my morning meditation, I read this message:
We need to accept the difficulties and disciplines of life so as to fully share the common life of other people. Unless we have been through the same experiences, we cannot understand or have compassion for other people well enough to be able to help them.
Suddenly it dawned on me… Who better to speak at the Girls Symposium? This is EXACTLY how girls feel all the time. I don’t have to be perfect. All I need to do is be real and honest and share the tools that I use on a daily, sometimes hourly basis to get myself out of those feelings.
In that moment, I also realized that even Maya Angelou wasn’t perfect. But the thing that made her great was that she knew her own worth. She showed up for life fully and she didn’t take herself too seriously either.
“My life has been one great big joke, a dance that’s walked a song that’s spoke, I laugh so hard I almost choke when I think about myself.” ~Maya Angelou
What we’re all looking for is not perfection, but a deep desire and a longing to be acknowledged and celebrated for who we are. But if we’re looking for the world to do that for us, we will always be disappointed and forever striving for it. We are the only ones who can do that for ourselves. When we stop trying to be perfect and learn how to accept and even embrace our imperfections – that is when our light shines the brightest.
Perfectionism is as much as a disease as alcoholism. You may not get pulled over by the cops or thrown in jail for trying to be perfect, (unless of course you get caught stealing all the stuff that you think will make you all that!) but it causes just as much damage to our relationships when we manipulate, control and strive to make everyone like us.
Next time you notice yourself feeling anxious and trying to be somebody other than who you really are, try these strategies instead:
1) Spend some quiet time and connect to your best and highest self within. That part of you knows that no one is perfect and that you were created to be exactly who you are.
2) Catch yourself when you’re trying too hard and simply say, “I have enough. I do enough. I am enough.”
3) Practice The Attitude of Gratitude: Make a list of all the things that are awesome about you and that you’re grateful for. For example, instead of thinking you need to have long, model legs with thigh gap, appreciate the fact that your legs take you where you need to go.
4) Question the media messages you’re getting and ask yourself, “Who says?” “Who says I have to be perfect?”
5) Make a commitment to yourself that you will try to love and accept yourself – just the way you are. Try this one day at a time strategy:
Just for today…
Just for today I will accept myself just the way I am.
Just for today watch the way your own perfectionism shows up in your life. The more you practice this, the quick you’ll catch yourself giving away your power. It’s in that moment when we choose and decide how we’re going to show up for life – that is where we will discover true freedom.
You’re perfectly imperfect – just like me and everybody else. Give yourself a break and just for today – be who you are.
Are you with me? It takes courage to make a commitment to yourself and stand up to the world of “shoulds” and dare to just be YOU. If you’re ready, please let us know in the comments below and share this article with your tribe. As Marianne Williamson said, “When you shine your light, you automatically give others permission to do the same.” How cool would it be if your commitment was the very thing that changed the way all women and girls show up in the world?
And remember… real girls aren’t perfect… and perfect girls aren’t real!