Why Perfection is Overrated

Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, gave a powerful TED talk that hit two of our FAVORITE principles:


She talked about her Congressional campaign, and how at 33 – it was the first truly brave thing she’d ever done in her life, and the first time she didn’t agonize over perfection.

And I’m not alone: so many women I talk to tell me that they gravitate towards careers and professions that they know they’re going to be great in, that they know they’re going to be perfect in, and it’s no wonder why. Most girls are taught to avoid risk and failure. We’re taught to smile pretty, play it safe, get all A’s. Boys, on the other hand, are taught to play rough, swing high, crawl to the top of the monkey bars and then just jump off headfirst. And by the time they’re adults, whether they’re negotiating a raise or even asking someone out on a date, they’re habituated to take risk after risk. They’re rewarded for it. It’s often said in Silicon Valley, no one even takes you seriously unless you’ve had two failed start-ups. In other words, we’re raising our girls to be perfect, and we’re raising our boys to be brave.

Whatever perfection means to you – more money, an immaculate house and wardrobe, kids that behave and impress everyone – it’s an empty and exhausting quest. Perfection, and the sense of control that results from it, is an unsustainable source of affirmation.

What happens when there’s no control – thus, no affirmation?

When a girl who has found her identity in athletics is suddenly injured – the affirmation goes away. Will her sense of self, beyond her athletic ability, withstand the blow? Will her confidence fade into oblivion because she failed to do it all? Will she have the courage to pick herself up and start again?

She has to know that she can fail, and before you resist – this doesn’t mean you’re handing out free passes to Lazy Town via Quits A Lot Lane.

It means you are creating safe space, and open lines of communication. So be mindful of the “support” you offer; somewhere along the way, telling her “you can be anything,” could have translated into “you have to be everything.” This is what we call The Supergirl Complex.

Brene Brown wrote in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Healthy striving is self-focused: “How can I improve?” Perfectionism is other-focused: “What will they think?”

Don’t pressure her to do it all, to be “perfect”, or commit to everything. Encourage her to try lots of different things – and be supportive if that means she doesn’t choose your own favorite sport or pastime to pursue.

We have to begin to undo the socialization of perfection, but we’ve got to combine it with building a sisterhood that lets girls know that they are not alone.

4 Responses

  1. Picklemom

    WOW! Powerful stuff that really hits home. Thank you for your bravery in posting!

  2. […] but we now have a few other reasons to add to the list…like how she thinks the overwhelming culture of perfectionism needs to change, and how she is open about how hard it is to make it in a male-dominated […]

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