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April 10, 2023

Overcoming Perfectionism and the Fear of Failure

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed with the pressure of success, especially if you’re a woman of color in a male-dominated field. Women of color often experience higher levels of perfectionism and fear of failure than other demographics due to systemic racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination. When you’re a woman of color, and your success is predicated on your acceptance from the majority, perfection can feel like the only real option. We have to be more likeable, articulate, logical, and work harder just to enter the spaces that others already exist so comfortably in.

We don’t get taken as seriously. If we fail, we risk jeopardizing the prospects of other WOC who will inevitably be compared to us. We’re forced to compete with our own sisters for limited spots. Our work is valued oftentimes only if we expose our vulnerabilities, trauma, and struggles of being a WOC. Our stories of success are tokenized or used as a comparison for all WOC- “If she could do it, then why can’t you?”

So how can we learn to move past our perfectionist tendencies and fear of failure so that we can each reach success and fulfillment in our own ways?

Accept Your Vulnerability

One key to overcoming perfectionism is accepting your vulnerability. We often try too hard to hide our imperfections because we worry that they will make us look weak or incompetent. Instead, we need to accept that mistakes are part of life, and that it is important to have the courage to take risks and make decisions even when we don’t know what the outcome will be. By acknowledging our vulnerabilities, we can learn how to manage them better instead of trying to hide them away or ignore them altogether.

Create an Action Plan

Another way to overcome perfectionism is by creating an action plan for yourself. Write down all your goals and break them down into small steps that you can take on a daily basis in order to reach those goals. This will give you something concrete and achievable that you can focus on instead of worrying about whether or not you are living up to some idealistic expectation. Perfectionism can actually hinder our path to success and create unnecessary anxiety surrounding unrealistic expectations we hold for ourselves. Having an action plan also makes it easier for you to track your progress so that you can see how far you have come since starting this journey!

Face Your Fears

It is also important that we face our fears instead of running away from them. We all have fears—whether it be fear of failure or fear of judgment—but it is important that we take time each day to confront those fears head-on so that they do not hold us back from achieving our goals. Take time each day for self-reflection and ask yourself why these fears exist within you and what actionable steps you can take in order to overcome them once and for all!

Be kind to yourself 

Speak to yourself kindly. If it helps, you can imagine you are speaking to a younger version of yourself. Would you be hard on her for every little mistake you make? Forgive yourself for making mistakes, let go of the past, and move on. When we can be our authentic selves and show up as we are, our successes will feel more meaningful and fulfilling versus when we try to fit ourselves into societal expectations. 

At the end of the day, overcoming perfectionism and fear of failure takes hard work, dedication, and lots (and lots) of self-care! It’s important for us as women—especially women who are striving for success in male-dominated fields—to remember that no one is perfect; everyone has their own set of struggles, fears, doubts, etc., but by taking the time each day to focus on ourselves and our own wellbeing first, we can create positive change in both our personal lives as well as our professional ones. The change may not be immediate and it can take a long time to fully free ourselves from perfectionism, but it is worthwhile.