Part of being a woman in business is dealing with the constant pressure to be perfect, especially for those who dare to dream big and fulfill leadership potential. With the right mindset, the pursuit of perfection can spur us on to excellence — however, more often than not, it can stop our momentum in its tracks.
I often think back to a conversation I had with a group of amazingly talented women who were feeling frustrated in their careers. They felt as if they always had to be twice as good as all of the men in their field in order to be seen as capable. (Not even exceptional, just…capable.) Like Ginger Rogers, they were expected to do everything backwards and in high heels, all while never missing a beat.
And, guess what? They were exhausted.
Chasing perfection can fuel continuous improvement IF we realize and accept that we’ll probably fall short most of the time. However, that feeling of being good ‘enough’ is rarely the case for most overachievers. In reality, the constant pressure to be better, smarter, faster and more prepared than our male counterparts at all costs often leads to stress, burnout and a whole lot of missed opportunities.
Not only is there pressure for women to be perfect all the time, but ambition also tends to be discouraged. As a former F-14 fighter pilot, I know firsthand the many systemic, and societal roadblocks there are for women taking a traditionally male career path. There will be people who think you can’t succeed, and even those who don’t want you to succeed. Whether consciously or not, ambition is seen by some as a strictly male pursuit. This sentiment discourages girls, young women and even many highly competent, experienced women professionals from taking risks and going after their dreams. From going for it.
At the end of the day, this hurts all of us. In these challenging times, we desperately need every voice at the table. We need those who think differently, who can see opportunities where others can’t. We need women who will step up and demand their voices are heard.
So, how can you step up and succeed in spite of the pressure to be perfect? Here are four things to keep in mind:
1. Find a Wingman
In aviation, a wingman is someone who provides protective support for the leading aircraft in a flight formation. Likewise, you’ll need someone watching your back if you’re going to succeed. Identify the people around you who will help overcome challenges and identify your strengths.
2. Build a network
Now that you’ve found a wingman or two, surround yourself with a network of people who will lift you higher while also holding you accountable to your big goals and dreams.
3. Stop worrying (and start believing!)
Worrying changes nothing — it only exhausts and depletes us. Your energy is better spent on building up your confidence.
4. Conquer fear with action
The number one way you can ensure you’re the best leader you can possibly be is by building your ability to work through fear and then doing what needs to be done in spite of that fear. The only way we can gain more strength, courage and confidence is by taking action because action conquers fear.
In the end, the best advice I can give is to stop chasing perfection and just be you. Be brave, be bold, be you.