Perfectionism — you’ve probably put it as your biggest weakness on your resumé. Maybe you justify it, claiming you simply want to put your best foot forward and do a job well done.
But truthfully? You’re drowning. Putting on a mask and holding yourself to an impossible standard, day after day, is exhausting. It isn’t sustainable. If you don’t learn to let go, burn-out will get to you real quick.
As women in tech, many of us battle the pressure of perfectionism, anxiety, and imposter syndrome each day. In our recent episode of Repped in Tech, we sat down with our special guest and Full Stack Engineer, Rochelle Rossman, to understand how to overcome perfectionism and anxiety, especially as a newbie in the tech world. Watch the full episode on YouTube here!
What is Perfectionism?
We throw around the term all the time… but what does it actually mean?
On a basic level, perfectionism is an internal pressure, desire, and anxiety to be perfect. Of course, there’s no such thing as perfection. Most perfectionists understand this.
At the core, perfectionism is a symptom of self-doubt and self-confidence. Most of all, it’s highly social.
- If we do everything perfectly, we have to be accepted, liked, and rewarded, right?
- If we don’t make any mistakes, we won’t be punished, judged, or rejected, right?
- If we avoid failure at all costs, we can finally succeed in life… right?
Perfectionists often have good intentions. They want to succeed, learn, and become better. They want to be accepted and feel like they belong. But the truth is, learning requires mistakes. To become better, we have to start somewhere!
Signs of Perfectionism for Women in Tech
Wondering if perfectionism is standing in your way of getting what you want? Here are a few common signs of perfectionism for women in tech:
- Setting unrealistic expectations and goals for yourself and/or others.
- Persistent feelings of anxiety and depression, particularly when given feedback or after making a mistake.
- Being highly critical of yourself and/or others.
- Making decisions based on anxiety or avoidance of failure.
- Procrastination of tasks you aren’t 100% confident in.
- Defensiveness around past performance and mistakes.
- Taking too much time on non-important projects or tasks.
- Avoidance of situations or tasks that you haven’t tried or aren’t good at.
- People-pleasing, overworking, and overextending yourself.
- Never being satisfied with your work or progress.
As we can see, perfectionism is less about being perfect and more about avoiding the fear and pain of failure or rejection. Which means, the antidote to perfectionism is self-confidence.
We can see this even clearer when we explore the causes of perfectionism for many women in tech.
Causes of Perfectionism for Women in Tech
So, what causes perfectionism? Viewing perfectionism as some personal flaw ignores the root of the problem. In most cases, perfectionism results from multiple experiences that cause us to believe that our success/failure = our worth.
A few main causes of perfectionism include:
A study across American, Canadian, and British college students found that perfectionism has increased up to 33% in the past few decades.
Social media has enabled us to create, edit, and publish these ‘perfect’ versions of ourselves. We scroll for hours to look at everyone else’s best days — often while experiencing some of our worst days. (We talk a bit more about this in our full episode!)
Anxiety and Depression
Research shows anxiety, depression, and suicide ideation are connected to chronic perfectionism. Putting unrealistic expectations on ourselves can cause us to beat ourselves up, burn out, and feel like giving up. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you relate to these feelings. I promise, there is hope.
Underrepresentation of Women in Tech
One study showed that the underrepresentation of women in tech can affect how we view ourselves at work. Women are often associated with negative gender stereotypes such as perfectionism and self-doubt. When we feel the pressure and presence of these stereotypes, we can self-sabotage: We convince ourselves we won’t be ‘good enough’ or feel the pressure of proving our worth again and again.
Family Upbringing and Childhood
Our parents, families, and teachers help build our self-confidence from a young age. If you dealt with unrealistic expectations, criticism, and bullying as a child, you might struggle to keep up with these standards to protect yourself.
How Perfectionism Affects Women in Tech
Perfectionism holds us back from our true potential. Why? Because it prevents us from trying, failing, and learning. These are the keys to success in tech. Because of this, perfectionism often has a profound impact on women in tech:
Shame & Blame
Research shows that women are more likely to blame themselves when something goes wrong at work. The worst part is? When something goes right, we tend to find a way to give credit to others.
The same research shows that men do just the opposite.
Learning Out in the Open
In our conversation with Rochelle, she perfectly captured what it’s like to be a newbie in tech:
“If I feel like I’m not going to be able to do something perfectly (which you’re just not when you first start out coding)... I tend to be avoidant. I don’t want to do what I know I’m not going to be good at… I don’t want to let anybody see me not be good at something….”
When learning how to do something for the first time, you’re learning out in the open. It’s going to be rough until you grow, especially with technical work.
That’s how it is. If it’s hard for you, you’re not doing something wrong. In fact, it means you’re doing something right! Learning tech is learning a new language. To learn, you must speak up, make mistakes, and fail again and again.
One of the five main types of imposter syndrome is called The Perfectionist. Perfectionism is at the heart of imposter syndrome. It tries to tell us that if we’re not perfect, we don’t belong — and that’s anything but true.
Fear & Anxiety at Work
While work is work, it should be fun sometimes! We spend about ⅓ of our lives working. You don’t want to spend that time making yourself sick over every mistake. This is exactly what perfectionism and work-related anxiety want us to do.
Holds Us Back From Getting More & Getting Started
Perfectionism holds us back from two things: Getting more and getting started.
Perfectionism causes many women in tech to hold themselves back from asking or answering a question, negotiating their salary, applying for the job, joining the program, asking for a raise, and taking up space. We avoid putting ourselves out there in the anxiety of being rejected or failing. But you can’t earn the reward without taking the risk.
7 Tips for Overcoming Perfectionism as Women in Tech
Here are a few tips for battling perfectionism and anxiety and empowering your confidence:
1. Create Smaller Goals.
If you’re a perfectionist, you probably have big goals. That’s okay — start by breaking them down into smaller, more short-term goals. Celebrate as you reach them!
2. Be (Just a Bit) Lazy.
Reminder: You don’t have to be productive 100% of the time. You’re the human, not the computer. Find a way to unwind and be just a bit lazy after work. Give yourself a break, release anxiety, and hit ‘reset.’
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Break Stereotypes.
Stereotypes put us in a box. They pressure us to look, act, and be a certain way. By showing up as your authentic self, you can break stereotypes and show yourself that being different is okay.
4. Reframe Failures as Stepping Stones.
Each time you make a mistake, stop and take a deep breath. Consciously label it as one step closer to your goal. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true.
5. Celebrate the Small Wins.
Success is success, no matter how small or imperfect! Celebrate your milestones. Relish in your positive feedback. Let the little wins be enough.
6. Don't Shy Away From Your Confidence.
You know you're good at something. You may not be perfect at it, but that's okay. Own it. Embrace what you're good at, and be confident in it.
7. Don’t Forget: We All Want to Fit in.
Remember: We’re all misfits trying to fit in. I promise you, even your manager has days when they worry about making mistakes and people liking them. We’re all in the same boat. We all have some level of fear, stress, and anxiety we deal with. We all have rough drafts and work behind the scenes to show the best versions of ourselves.
Overcoming Perfectionism as Women in Tech
Perfectionism can hold us back from the very thing we want. It tricks us into believing that in order to be accepted, we must be perfect — an impossible standard no one in tech can ever meet!
No one is perfect — and thank goodness for that. The moment you realize you don’t have to be perfect, everything changes.