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Don’t Get Stuck in Perfectionism

gender high-achievers perfectionism problem solving Jan 14, 2023
silhouette of mountains covered by fog at the horizon by Sergey Pesterev

Physicians are High-Achievers. There is no path to becoming a Physician that doesn’t involve strong grades, high test scores, and generally an impressive record of past achievements. Although each path may have significant differences (the student who goes straight from college to medical school vs the person who enters medical school after having had another career), there is a certain degree of achieving that must be done.

And for many, the habit of perfectionism (yes, I said habit, not trait) has seemed like a necessary one. Without perfectionism, a drive to perform, how could we have gotten here? We needed the determination to study long hours, to work long shifts, to learn so many details and skills in order to get to where we are.

So perfectionism can feel like a good thing. Like a necessary thing.

And studies show that people with perfectionist tendencies tend to have big goals, and endure more in order to achieve them. Sounds great, right?

What’s also true is that perfectionism as a lifestyle also breeds anxiety, rigidity, “one-way thinking,” self-criticism, and poor self-confidence. As Meg Myers Morgan concludes in her book, Everything is Negotiable, “this means perfectionists are most in danger of staying where they are.” So at some point, after pulling ahead in some respects because of the desire to appear perfect, we stop moving because we are either paralyzed with fear of failure, or defeated by self-criticism and low self-confidence.

Consider how this shows up in professional women; women are less likely than men to apply for a promotion if they don’t meet all of the criteria listed in the job description. We may also be more likely to wait for someone to suggest that we apply for a promotion, rather than seek it out or decide to throw our hat in the ring without an invitation. Or we may dream of an ambitious project or a new business or a promotion, but never take any steps forward because conditions aren’t “just right.” We stop because we have young children, or need more experience or need to research it more. And once we stop, we stay put.

So as you look at this new year in front of you, and think about goals, as many of us are used to doing, you may notice that your goals haven’t changed from years past. Perhaps you are still daydreaming about next steps, waiting for perfect conditions, waiting to finally feel the confidence that you imagine is required to move forward.

If this is you, waiting, staying stuck, but longing for something more, it’s time to let go of that perfectionism and decide to take action. The action may be messy, such as sending an awkward email to ask for a meeting with a higher-up or someone doing what you dream of doing. It may involve starting before you are ready, and being willing to suck at it and grow. But ultimately, if we want different results, if we are longing for change, it’s us who has to decide to move forward. 

So embrace imperfection. 

Embrace trial-and-error. 

Embrace starting from scratch.

And learn what it’s like to get unstuck!

Hi There!

I'm Megan. I'm a Physician and a Life Coach and a Mom. I created this blog to help other Physicians and Physician-Moms learn more about why they feel exhausted, burned-out and overwhelmed, and how to start to make changes. I hope that you enjoy what you read, and that it helps you along your journey. And hey, if you want to talk about coaching with me, I'm here for that too! I offer a free 1:1 call to see if we are a good fit. Click the button below to register today.

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