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Perfectionism: Our Dirty Little Secret | Female Leadership | #GirlsClub
Confidence AdviceLB's Corner
Perfectionism: Our Dirty Little Secret

There are a lot of negative “isms” out there – Skepticism, Narcissism, and the target for today’s article: Perfectionism

In fact, I believe perfectionism to be just as dangerous an “ism” to a life well lived as any of the other inflictions. Further, I think it is a dirty little secret most women are hiding. 

Not all of us are hiding it of course. Some wear that badge with pride. It’s a laminated name tag, all fresh and bright with un-creased corners. Ladies, go ahead and raise your hands, you proud perfectionists, you know who you are.

Hey, I have the badge too. Mine’s just at the bottom of my purse and kind of crusty with breakfast bar crumbs and lip gloss. You know me; I’m the closet perfectionist.

But you know who I don’t know? The male perfectionist. Where’s their badge? So I wondered… 

“Why are most of the perfectionists I know women?” 

Oh did that kick off 6 hours of bunny-hole burrowing.. You’ll never believe what I found:

Women are hard-wired to be perfectionists! 

Wait for it:

The medial-frontal cortex is actually bigger in women’s brains than men’s. This is the section of the brain that is responsible for recognizing flaws. Wait, WHAT?! The section of the brain that finds 20 things wrong with my work, my outfit, my partner!? Scientists call it “hypervigilance.” My husband calls it “nit-picky.” 

I call it insecurity.

And there’s more! All humans under stress produce cortisol – the hormone involved in fight or flight. But female brains can reduce the flow of cortisol by organizing or digging into details. It helps us feel more in control. 

This is why I attack my Tupperware drawer when my world goes off center. I literally release the chemicals in my brain to reduce my stress. My team may call it crawling up their shorts, but I call it sweet relief. When my world feels out of control, I get after something I can control. Learn more in the book The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine. There’s also a funny movie on Hulu.

My brain is rewarding me for organizing. For perfecting. But here’s the problem with perfectionism my friends: 

Perfectionism starves confidence. 

It literally sucks the oxygen out spaces where our dreams live. 

Our need to get it right the first time. Wait, our need to get it ALL right, and not just right but better than anyone in the history of doing anything has ever done in all time? Yeah, that doesn’t bode well for risk-taking does it?

HP contributed to a study a few years back called the Confidence Gap. It lent some statistics to the phenomenon I call “sitting on our hands.” It showed us that men apply for roles if they have 60% of the published criteria whereas women wait for more. How much more?



That means most women won’t raise their hands to try something until we feel like we’re guaranteed to do it well. Nope, sorry, to do it perfectly. The first time someone watches.

Looking at this in black and white, it’s pretty ridiculous right?

I felt it myself. When I was about 15, a woman named Carole Harder did a talk for high school kids in my hometown of Cedar Rapids, IA (yeah, it’s a real place, look it up. Go Kennedy!) She talked about positive thinking and confidence and she rocked my world. I wanted to be Carole Harder when I grew up.

But I didn’t actually admit that out loud until I was 45. Why? Because I thought I needed to PERFECT confidence-building before I could help others with it. I couldn’t admit to having a dream of speaking and training on confidence because people might judge that I hadn’t mastered it myself. 

Well DUH!

I almost didn’t start #GirlsClub because, “Who am I to teach confidence?”

You’re getting the irony of this, right?

So in Generation 1 (circa 2019), I got honest about my own confidence issues and vowed to learn out loud while I worked on it. Maybe others could learn with me, not from me. That felt better. Scary as hell still, but less pressure.

Learning out loud is what we call vulnerability in the #GirlsClub community. We applaud everyone who comes off mute to guess an answer, who posts on LinkedIn for the first time, who books a skip-level meeting or finds an internal advocate. We adore our allies who step up and try to learn how to support us better and dismantle their unintentional boys clubs by admitting they want to learn to do better. Respect.

In fact, celebrating vulnerability and crushing perfectionism gave rise to my personal favorite part of the #GirlsClub curriculum: Rise Up On Records. (tune in, we’re going to ask you to make one!) These 2:30 confessionals are where brave leaders cop to the 3 F’s: Fears, Failures, F*#% Ups.

Because risk-taking and perfectionism can not breathe the same air, we celebrate failure. Folks, anyone who’s stepped in it is someone who tried something. Let’s applaud failure! 

And you know what? It’s working. Every generation (cohort) of #GirlsClub binge these videos. For the same reason we love a good train wreck on TV, watching people we admire get REAL gives us all permission to be hot freaking messes. 

When women see other women get real about being nervous, wrong, sloppy, scared and the other ten forms of absolutely imperfect I embody in a day’s time, we all get permission to remove the badge.

Sure some of us will crease it lightly and save it in a plastic bag, but we’ll take it off for a minute. Then an hour. And suddenly there’s a little more air in every room.

Breathe deeply, my friends. Throw your badge to the bottom of your purse. Risk is where the real fun is at.


To submit a Rise Up On Record video, email for instructions and a link. We’d be honored to include your F*#% up. 🙂