The Perfect Trap: How Perfectionism Holds Working Women Back

Today, your challenge is to bake the perfect cake!

Er…Write the perfect case study.

Um…Lead the perfect presentation?


There is no perfect (and, let’s face it, even a good enough cake is still pretty great). 

Yet, as women, we’re always striving to be more.

But why?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), perfectionism is the tendency to demand an extremely high or even flawless performance, in excess of what is required by the situation.

Causes of Perfectionism

Perfectionists learn as children that people value them for what they do instead of who they are and come to see their worth as contingent upon other people’s approval. This leaves them dependent on external validation and highly vulnerable to criticism.

To protect themselves, perfectionists adopt the false belief that being “perfect” is their best defense against criticism.

This is a problem for working women because:

The Problem With Perfection

Being a perfectionist has actually proven to be detrimental to work. Some of the problems associated with being a perfectionist include:

Poor achievement. At work, perfectionists achieve less than other high achievers. Striving for perfection is disabling and often leads to maladaptive behaviors such as procrastination and burnout.

Impaired relationships. Perfectionism often results in trying to control situations and people. This can lead to poor interoffice dynamics and strained interpersonal relationships.

Increased stress. Striving to be perfect increases stress levels and leads to impaired mental health outcomes. Anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, low self-esteem, eating disorders, and sleep disturbances have all been linked to perfectionism.

To sum up, unhealthy perfectionism can:

  • Make it challenging to achieve your goals.
  • Negatively affect your relationship with coworkers.
  • Lead to psychological distress, eating issues, and disturbed sleep.

So, what can you do to solve your perfection problem?


If you want to evolve away from perfectionism and toward consistent achievement and healthy growth:

  • Set realistic goals. Base goals on what you’ve accomplished in the past and know you can achieve in the present. This allows you to succeed and helps you see that excellence achieved is more valuable than perfection sought.
  • Avoid all-or-nothing thinking. Evaluate your success in terms of how much you enjoyed and learned from a task in addition to how much you accomplished. Recognize that there is value not only in achieving but also in pursuing a goal.
  • Learn from your mistakes. Recognize that many benefits can be derived from mistakes.  Create a list of all the mistakes you made on a project and then create a list of all the things you learned from those mistakes. Brainstorm alternatives so you’ll handle similar situations more effectively next time.
  • Delegate. To maintain control, perfectionists often find themselves doing all the work themselves. Delegating a portion of your work allows you to play to your strengths while doing the work that means the most to you.
  • Strive for work-life balance. Rather than aiming for perfection, practice self-care and strive for a healthy work-life balance. Eat well, get enough sleep, exercise, use your vacation days, and take time to care for yourself. 
  • Choose good enough. Instead of perfection, aim for excellence. Perfectionists accept nothing less than perfect, but high achievers are satisfied doing excellent work and meeting their goals. (Hint: Strive to be a high achiever!)
  • Most importantly, once you’ve got your own perfection problem under control —
  • Work with people who reflect your own healthy dynamics. 

Enough said.

A better company, a better experience. Since 1981, docstrats has created a company employees want to work for. We value our employees and strive to foster an atmosphere of community, support, and transparency that contributes to overall wellness and optimal work-life balance. 

Contact | docstrats, and let us know how we can help you with your professional goals.  

And please feel free to pass along any of that good enough cake you might have left over. We promise we won’t complain!