I’ve Been Thinking … Progress Demands Action, Not Perfection

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I’ve Been Thinking … Progress Demands Action, Not Perfection

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We all want to be good at what we do, perform our jobs well and reach our goals. When we fill roles we have mastered, we feel confident and in control. However, limiting ourselves to positions we are already “good” at can become a dangerous trap that halts progress and stops us from becoming better at things we could do.

The need to be 100% assured of success before attempting something new is a sign of full-blown perfectionism. It’s that ugly little crutch that keeps us from weighing in on complicated issues, applying for a new job, asking for a raise or volunteering for a stretch assignment. That’s too bad because any situation where you are certain to succeed is one you have already outgrown.

Perfectionism can sound admirable at first, but really, it’s all about criticism, self-doubt, self-sabotage and a desire to shield yourself from failure. It holds us back by convincing us we are not ready for bigger challenges. Research shows that, on average, women will not apply for a position until they meet all of the qualifications. Men apply when they meet only 50%. That leaves them room to grow. It leaves us working below our potential.

Think about this. Women have earned more college degrees than men for 30+ years. The pipeline is full of talented, prepared women. But we still lag way behind in leadership. Women sometimes assume that if we are just good enough at what we do, we will be recognized and rewarded. But institutional policies and practices still create barriers to women’s advancement, as does unconscious bias. Research also shows men are promoted based on their potential but women on proven performance.

If we are going to push the current window of opportunity for women open wider, we have to embrace progress and improvement and leave perfection behind. We would do ourselves a big favor by focusing on goals that enable us to develop and acquire new skills rather than goals that simply reinforce and prove our existing capabilities. That’s according to social psychologist, researcher and author Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D. In her book 9 Things Successful People Do Differently, she says that people whose goals are about getting better, rather than being good, stretch further toward their potential and willingly embrace the challenges that come with progress.

What if, as capable, competent, prepared women, we decide we are ready now for our next challenge and to acquire new skills? What if we start raising our hands and advocating for our personal advancement when we have just 50% of the job qualifications mastered and a commitment and capability to grow into the other half?

Re-igniting women’s stalled progress demands action, not perfection. With every woman who casts off the stifling constraints of perfectionism and bets on her own potential, we will all make progress.

Hattie Hill is President & CEO of the non-profit Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF).

This essay was featured in the June 10th edition of The Sunday Paper, Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter for people with passion and purpose. To get inspiring and informative content like this piece delivered straight to your inbox each Sunday morning, click here to subscribe.

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