I’ve been working on mastering the art of imperfection. And this website is a testimony to the work I’ve put into shedding my perfectionist skin. I spent years keeping my talents and opinions to myself, doubting myself, living with imposter syndrome and thinking I was the dumbest person in the room – all because I wasn’t perfect. For me, especially in college and during the early part of my career, I thought I had to be perfect to be worthy of being in the room, to be worthy of making noise or taking up space.
I even kept this blog quiet for the first couple years of its existence because I was afraid that if I called attention to it someone would see me for what I was – an imperfect imposter.
But I am imperfect… and I’m not an imposter. I own the domain for f**ks sake.
And I know I’m not alone in this.
I know this because of the Ted Talk above. I love this TedTalk. Every time it comes up I think about how fortunate I was to be raised by someone who valued imperfection (the woman would retrieve my coloring out of the trash when I told her it wasn’t good enough to keep). But even with a conscientious mother no one was able to protect me from the misogynistic reality that we live in. Even her belief & affirmations that I could do ANYTHING weren’t enough to keep the taunts that society fed me out of my brain.
Society Fed Me the Lie that I Needed to be Perfect
In 3rd grade I was taught by timed multiplication math sheets that if I wanted to succeed in education I had to keep up with the boys – but I was blissfully unaware that I could run circles around them.
In 4th grade I was taught that even though my male teacher begged me to join a math-a-thon team as an extracurricular- as the only girl on the team I was asked to sit out during the relay (a math problem relay) because I “couldn’t run as fast as the boys” even though I could solve the equations quicker.
In 5th I was taught that if a boy started drama or a runout they could blame it on a girl and one of us would get accused of causing drama or gossiping. I was taught that men were allowed to brag about their accomplishments but if I talked about my success or accomplishments I was bragging.
No one ever told me I wasn’t enough – they didn’t need to. Their actions did.
And every one of these moments were brushed off as no big deal. Making a big deal out of any of these would have been a reflection on me, on my maturity, on my inability to control my emotions – as a girl I was never allowed to complain because even if I did it was my fault for not speaking up in the moment.
Imperfection in High School
I went to high school and was ridiculed for my clothes because my shorts distracted the boys.
I disagreed with an English teacher on the Great Gatsby (I hated it) and was accused of not reading the book but none of the boys were accused of skipping the work when they shared my opinion.
I was one of only 3 girls who took autoshop and was told that I must be taking it “for the boys” when in reality I took it to learn how to work on cars (imagine that!)
People felt comfortable making these comments because women and girls are taught to be predictable. We are taught to comply. Women and girls are not encouraged to be problem solvers or innovators.
Perfection in Sisterhood
And by the time I went to college I joined a sorority to make friends. Through this process I ended up both bullied and a bully. Constantly ridiculed by society for joining a sorority and consistently ridiculed by the women in the organization because society had pitted us all against each other.
Society taught us that we couldn’t all win. Ambitious women aren’t all allowed to be successful. Someone has to be the leader. Social status has to matter. Only one of us could get the cute boy. Pull the pre med guy. Have the highest GPA or make the best crafts for our littles.
We had to get the grades, go to the parties, make the crafts and literally walk upstairs backwards in heels (a skill I have yet to utilize in my adult life). We had to be perfect and we were compared to one another regardless of how well we did.
I learned at 19 that titles and power changed people. That jealousy is ugly on everyone – including myself. I learned that decisions in a women’s organization were made by the contextualized male gaze.
Toxic masculinity is a drug and we were all strung out.
I hated myself by the time I detoxed my senior year. I was a “bad” feminist, I had committed ultimate girl code treason by choosing to spend more time with my boyfriend than my friends. In their eyes it was a betrayal but for me it was easiest to remove myself from the competition (at least I knew society wouldn’t require me to compete with him).
No one ever had to tell me I wasn’t enough verbatim – society told me. It reared its ugly head through the way I was conditioned to treat women and how they were conditioned to treat me.
Perfectionism forces girls and women to take the blame for something that was never their fault – the opinion of society on who they are and how they conduct themselves.
Perfectionism tells us: If I play by the rules they can’t judge me.
Reality tells us: they will judge me anyway
Imposter Syndrome Sneaks In
Of course women suffer from imposter syndrome. How could we not? Everyone from society, to our sisters, to ourselves tell us that we aren’t enough. We will never be enough. We can’t be like the boys and we will always be pitted against the girls. And if for some reason we are confident or think we think we are enough we are being cocky – which is a perfectly acceptable reason to bully us under the guise of “keeping us humble”.
The corporate world is no kinder – it asked perfection of me as well..
I was asked to not get emotional about a bad review.
I was told I had to swear my loyalty to a company as a temp even though they weren’t going to hire me on.
By the end of my first corporate job I knew I had to work on perfectionism – I couldn’t be everything to everyone. I didn’t want to be everything to everyone. So I started this blog as a way to figure out who I was and what I wanted and to learn how to be imperfect – publicly.
Quitting Perfectionism & Embracing the Imperfection of being Me
I know I’m not alone in this. I’ve learned that I’m not the only one who needed to be reminded again and again that she is enough. I know other women who have felt like that had to be the very best at what they do to even get a seat at the table. Women who have worked their asses off to get to seats unofficially reserved for men.
Every mistake is held over us. And for those of us brave enough to take risks – we get ridiculed the whole way. While most of us aren’t explicitly told we aren’t enough we see it in our salaries, the subtle remarks in conversation, the impossibly high standards that are held over us. We can’t be perfect. So why try?
The friends and family that build us up. Moms who pull our coloring out of the trash and tell us we can be whoever we want to be when we grow up are great – but if society keeps giving us a different version of the narrative we have to be brave enough to believe that we are perfectly imperfect. We can’t be imposters in our own lives. Society as a whole may not believe in us – but that doesn’t mean we have to listen.
Over the last few years I’ve gotten really good at picking up on when perfectionism wants to come knocking at my door and I’ve learned how to honor it and simultaneously shut it down. As an adult I’ve been privileged to decrease the influence society has on how I show up in the world and now as my own boss I’m able to honor my imperfections – and even enjoy some of them.
Bravery is exhausting when you have to fight everyday. Imperfection is easier than being perfect when we feel safe but when we are being judged it’s easy to slip into a perfectionist mindset. So here is your reminder:
You cannot be perfect.
You can be:
And so many other qualities. But you don’t have to be all of them.
Imperfection in Action
My final ask of you is to be brave enough to do things imperfectly. I’ve spent years of my life not doing things because I didn’t think they would be “perfect” or good enough. For YEARS I oscillated between bold, brash, momentary bravery and self doubt.
I’ve finally started to get this imperfection thing down but I wasn’t always like this. And I think that’s a helpful piece of information because it means that with enough practice bravery can become a muscle (or at least a mask you’re able to slip on temporarily – think about it; even Beyoncé has an alter ego she channels to be bold on stage).
Be brave, embrace imperfection, chase what you want and now that I’m rooting for you!
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