It's time we find the courage to be imperfect.
We have an epidemic on our hands. Womankind is plagued by the not-good-enough bug. It eats away at our self-worth by making us believe we should be more perfect than we are, as perfect as we perceive others to be. And the insidious byproduct of this particular perfection-seeking bug is complete paralysis. When we avoid imperfection, we avoid risk—the risk of taking a shot, the risk of putting ourselves out there, the risk of making a mistake, the risk of being seen as anything less than ideal.
Let me be blunt. The casualty of perfection-seeking is courage. And that's a big problem—for us and for future generations.
A good chunk of my day is spent talking to young girls about perfection. They stalk social media sites, comparing their own "pitiful existences" to the "perfect" world they see on their five-inch screens. Now, I'm not against social media, but when teens score their self-worth based on "likes," I've got an issue with that, especially when what earns those likes is what I call phantom perfection—an up-lit, highly edited sliver of life that's more reality show than reality. And more often than I'd like, that reality show becomes a drama and even a tragedy.
Teen girls aren't alone in this unhealthy habit of comparing, well, you name it: bodies, boyfriends, social successes. Nor are they unique in weighing their worth on a scale that has only two settings: zero and perfect. Based on that kind of measure, we're doomed to fail because, compared to the shiny image of others we hold in our heads, we always come up lacking. We rack up our failings like they're Air Miles, and where we land is complete discouragement.
Reshma Saujani, founder of the American nonprofit organization Girls Who Code, dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology, noticed that in coding classes, girls who ran up against a roadblock would hit the delete button and quit—a blank screen was better than an imperfect product. Saujani points out that when boys make a mistake, they believe something is wrong with their code; but when girls make an error, they believe something is wrong with them. This faulty thinking is consistent with what a decade of research on shame has revealed. Shame is a little voice that says, "When I get something wrong, it's because I'm wrong. When my product is defective, it's because I'm defective."
Fear of failure is a symptom of this faulty thinking. So I'm on a mission to rebrand the word "failure" and turn it into something to be proud of. Let's think of failures as success starters, mistakes as merit badges and regrets as life lessons (I'm a lifelong learner!). This reframed thinking is the antidote to this epidemic of unworthiness. And it's my personal quest. Care to join me?
Liza Finlay is a registered psychotherapist and author of Lost & Found: The Spiritual Journey of Women at Midlife.