When You’re Tired of Being Strong and There is No Other Option

When You’re Tired of Being Strong and There is No Other Option

Do you ever feel so utterly tired of being strong that all you want to do is collapse under all the weight you are carrying and free yourself of everything?

This might look like dreaming of running away.

This might look like hiding under the covers.

This might look like dropping all the balls and leaving them scattered on the floor.

Yes?

Me, too. 

And it’s another reason why women have been languishing for years.

If you have been following along, I have been exploring the politics of languishing.

It started with our obsession with overworking and overdoing.

And our relentless pursuit of perfectionism and being perfect.

Followed by the root of everything … our desire to be Good Girls.

Now, I am diving into how our strength and desire to be stronger and stronger is exhausting us beyond belief.

Listen to this on the Brave Yes Show now or keep reading below!

When You’re Tired of Being Strong and You Have No Choice

In the several months before the pandemic hit, I was at my peak, physically. I had been going to the gym and doing hot yoga multiple times a week. I had fallen in love with Zumba. I was lifting weights. 

I was strong. 

But as I was building my physical strength after years — a decade, or more of absolute neglect of my body’s muscles and bones — I often felt weak. I felt not enough for being so out of shape. 

There were many times when I needed to give myself a pep talk or two during some pretty intense asanas in yoga class.

I was pushing myself to do some poses my body didn’t like — or rather, that my mind told me I could not do.

You’ll fail. 

You’ll Fall. 

You’ll look weak.

You’ll appear like a newbie. 

And I didn’t dare look weak or lame in yoga class with all the other hot yogis, after two decades of practicing.

And so I did what any Good Girl Yogi would do.

“I whispered, I am strong as fuck, silently to myself.”

Shawn fink

Over and over, I told myself, I am strong as fuck. I am strong as fuck. 

Those words got me through.

Over and over in that class — in my life — I began to utter those words. I even shared that mantra with my membership community at the time, who all loved the mantra so much that they adopted it, too. 

But, like you, I am tired of being strong.

The truth is that being strong and feeling strong is a part of the power system that we are a part of as women and for those who identify as women.

None of us want to be the weak yogi in class or the one with the least amount of weight on their barbell.

None of us want to be too overwhelmed to crawl out of bed each day or unable to meet deadlines because we are overwhelmed by life. 

And yet … here we are.

We are tired of being strong

We are tired of being strong. 

Tired of holding it all together.

Tired of being the ones to shoulder the weight of the world.

Working with women on emotional and spiritual resilence has been the foundation of my work. 

If ever there’s been a motto in my life, I am strong AF has been it.

“But, underneath all of that strong woman, fierce energy is a little girl who is tired. Exhausted.”

shawn fink

Who wants to lay down at the trunk of a tree and rest for a good long time.

Or curl up in someone’s lap and have them cook her a meal or two.

Who wants to be taken care of … care for, nurtured, nourished. 

Strong women are tired of being strong women.

And yet we hold this world together. 

That’s a lot.

This was evident from the reaction of my Instagram post that I wrote for myself and shared with others.

“We can be weak. We are not coffee.”

shawn fink

And despite this feeling that we are too tired to be so strong all of the time, we push through, we hustle, we strive, we force, we control and we power through … all of which has added up to create a hurricane of exhaustion and languishing.

Suck it up.

Don’t cry.

Don’t run like a girl.

Don’t be a sheep or a snowflake. 

Don’t worry so much. 

Don’t be a scaredy cat.

When You're Tired of Being Strong and There is No Other Option

When Being a Girl Means Weak and Weak is Bad

Our society’s infatuation with strength and mental toughness is everywhere — so much so that it often feels like some influencers are trying to manipulate humanity by urging us to try their strategies to be superhuman — to be able to fit in more and more and more each day and to be more productive and more efficient and more rich.

There is no shortage of articles on how to be mentally tough — none of which I actually thought were good by the way, as most are written by men who, as we know, carry a great amount of pressure to be emotionally tough themselves.

And, for most of us, being strong and acting tough is a trauma response.

It is for me.

I learned to be tough very early on. I was an only child of teenage parents. I ran the woods as a free spirit. I was tough the second I came out of the womb.

In fact, I have few memories of my father — who I have been estranged from for 40 years — and one of them was when I was crying after my bedtime because my one and only precious aunt had been in a motorcycle accident. I wanted to be at the hospital with her and my mom who had just left to see her. Rather than console me, he locked me in my bedroom and put a fan in front of the door. I remember crying and crying and banging on the door. He never did let me out.

Just be tough.

Be strong AF.

Suck it up.

The pressure and politics of being human forces us to be strong and to work toward being stronger and stronger. 

Because being weak is not acceptable — even when we’re are tired of being strong. 

I even find myself feeling conflicted about this in parenting my own daughters while questioning when they are being too sensitive, too tired, too weak, too unmotivated.

I’ve talked about this line between asking our children to be perfect vs. striving for excellence if we don’t want to raise children who are perfectionists or who feel not enough.

Well, here we are again with a similar conundrum. Do we want to raise strong, resilient kids or do we want to honor their moments of feeling weak and their emotions? 

Of course, it’s a both/and scenario like most things required of us as parents and as human beings.

Every single one of my clients has expressed how in their own childhood they weren’t allowed to be weak or sensitive and how that has influenced their work ethic and their inability to soften and rest and allow themselves to be weak. They’ve shared with me that there was no space for crying. There was no space for emotions. There was certainly no space for being weak, for being soft, for being a feeler.

And they wished there had been. 

While there is a shift happening in gender norms and expectations, there is still a huge emphasis for ALL of us to be strong.

Be stronger, in fact, seems to be the message. Handle more. Carry more. Do more. 

And yet, women, for a long time, have been the definition of weakness. 

As a result, we have been trying to prove our strength. We are working more, earning more, juggling more and trying to look perfect while we do it all. 

To the point of overworking and overdoing.

To the point of perfectionism.

To the point of being Good Girls.

In a Pew Research survey that asked people to use words to describe men and women, the evidence is clear that gender stereotypes affect how we see women — and, as a result, how we see ourselves.

The primary word used to describe women was beautiful. Other words used to describe women more than men? Kind, responsible (ie: good girls), caring and compassionate.

Words used for men: leadership, powerful, ambitious, and strong. In fact, Americans are much more likely to use the word “powerful” in a positive way to describe men (67% positive) than women (92% negative).”

In fact, strength was commonly used for men and was not for women.

So there you go, ladies.

You don’t need to be so strong.

No one’s expecting you to be.

And yet, most women are the strongest people I know.

When You're Tired of Being Strong and There is No Other Option

Permission to Embrace Being Strong AND Soft

When we feel overwhelmed or in over our heads in a project or in our lives, the last thing we want to do is ask for help — or even suggest that we need help.

This is what it means to be strong AF.

We don’t want to be weak. We don’t want to have to ask for help or rely on others. 

AND

We absolutely don’t want to hold all of this weight of the world, we don’t want to carry all of the load, we don’t want to feel like we have to keep it all together. 

We don’t want the pressure to earn a higher income, get more likes on social media, network with more and more people, attend all the social and political and community events being held, keep a perfect house, raise perfect children, and on and on and on.

We want to be. 

We want to feel joy.

We want to feel alive.

We want meaning, and purpose, and passion.

We want to make an impact and be creative for the sake of just being creative and serving others.

The thing is, though, we are caught up in a system where we are trying desperately to maintain our status. We are clinging tightly so we don’t fall down.

And we are clinging tightly trying to get to the top.

And all we ever really do is feel exhausted from the trying.

What if we just surrendered and allowed ourselves to be weak, to fail, to fall, to mess up, to drop the balls, to not be so fucking liked so much?

Being strong is something we shove down like bad tasting medicine. We just do it because that’s what we do. We have no choice. We are afraid of what’s on the other side.

This is the politics of being strong as fuck.

shawn fink

The thing is, though, when we reach out for help it’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It’s a way to empower ourselves and free our inner world up for more light, more joy, more freedom.

For a long time, I let my own pillars of strength falter and crumble because I didn’t reach out.

But resentment and loneliness grows in isolation.

And when I am weak, I make the whole system for women weaker. 

When You're Tired of Being Strong and There is No Other Option

Finding a Balance of Strong and Soft

When I work with a woman who is ready to unearth her courage, authenticity and life’s purpose, we always work on building and cultivating what I call unshakeable resilience.

And to do that, we work on her energy balance. 

My Energy Boost Pillars involve a technique that helps you balance your feminine and masculine energies. We do this through helping you figure out where you find flow and understanding what brings you energy and what zaps your energy. 

We do this by helping you be strong AND soft.

This comes from a place of feminine energy, a place of stepping into your inner power and creating a sense of agency around your needs, your feelings, your emotions, your desires.

And, part of it is also being honest about your weaknesses, your vulnerabilities, your challenges.

For truly strong women who are holding it all together this is HARD work.

My Instagram post about being strong that resonated with so many was a sign that we’re all tired of being strong for everyone else — and that we must find another way to power up and power through without feeling like we can’t be soft or ask for help.

We must start focusing on thriving not just surviving and that means we have to be willing to cultivate our strong and soft superpowers.

We won’t want to do hard things — And Yet We Must

I can be heard over and over saying to my clients that there are a lot of things we do not want to do that we must do. 

And that does require a bit of strength to power through.

But it never has to feel so hard and so miserable that we become resentful or lose our sense of self.

When you are feeling exhausted and want to stop being so strong, but you have to power through anyway, here are 3 pieces of wisdom I can offer you.

THRIVE AND FLOURISH IN PLACE

We are all doing the parts of adulting that isn’t fun. The kind of things like working jobs we may not love or living with people who torment us — like teenagers. Caring for aging parents or volunteering for gigs that need us. The gift in powering through is that we can do with grace and joy. I work with a lot of women who don’t like where there lives are right now and they want to make a change .. and until that change can happen, we must learn to thrive in place. Sometimes my clients learn to thrive in place SO well that that change they wanted is no longer needed. 

SURROUND YOURSELF WITH SUPPORT

The number one thing you need to know is that you never have to do hard things alone. You may feel like it. You may believe it. But reaching out and reaching up for support, for help, for connection, for relief and respite is VITAL. Look at your strong woman load and see what you can offload and ask for help. Look at your strong woman energy and see where you can use emotional or spiritual support and seek out someone who is going to help fill you up.

LEARN TO EMBRACE AND CELEBRATE REST

Our addition to over-doing and over-working is directly connected to our pressure to remain strong and be strong. Learn to rest and rest often. Learn to know when your body needs to power through and when your body needs you to give it a break. Relief can come in many forms of rest. Learn to honor what brings you true recovery and healing.

HEY STRONG WOMAN –> I would love to hear from you. Are you a strong woman who needs support? Who needs to find new ways of creating soul alignment? Reach out to me for a FREE 1:1 Discovery Coaching Call. I will share resources and ideas to move you through your journey to more ease, more courage and more power.

5 Soulful Ways to Revive Your Creative Energy and Feel More Alive

5 Soulful Ways to Revive Your Creative Energy and Feel More Alive

My biggest passion in life is working with creative women who want to be more creative.

And yet, everyone I know right now is languishing.

I have been creative my whole life — since those days of building forts on the 50 acres of woods on my grandparent’s property and when I would spend hours recording stories on their cassette tape recorder in the spare bedroom of their house.

I was born to create.

And when I can’t be creative, I get very cranky.

I languish.

I’ve been working hard to release my own perfectionistic tendencies that hold me back from creating more wildly.

And I am still working to release Good Girl Syndrome in what I write and how I say it all.

But the one thing that I have mastered and love to work with my clients on is reclaiming creative energy and creative power.

Nothing excites me more than when a client sends me pictures between sessions of the art they’ve created or the poems they’ve written or the products they’ve launched.

So how do we reclaim our creative energy after a slump — such as the one we’re in right now after reaching our surge capacity?

Here’s what I know works really well for me and for my clients.

GET TO KNOW YOUR ENERGY PATTERNS

There are times for consuming. There are times to rest. And there are times to create. Knowing when that time is for you is essential to reclaiming your creative energy. Sometimes this cycle or pattern is related to your menstrual or moon cycle. Sometimes it is seasonal. Sometimes it’s very much related to your life schedule and family dynamics. Collecting the data on how your creative energy patterns work is a great exercise in knowing yourself.

MASTER HOW TO BOOST YOUR CREATIVE ENERGY

All day long we make choices. Those choices will directly affect our creative energy. Some choices will energize us. Others will deplete us. Focusing on what energizes you and brings you alive is almost always going to boost your creative energy and your creative output. Nothing zaps my creativity more than doing things that zaps my energy. For years, I have had my clients create an energy boost list — a list of actions you can take to feel more energized and vibrant.

CREATE BLISSFUL CREATIVE RITUALS

I love, love, love to help my clients create blissful rituals that will enliven their creativity and energy. I have no shortage of ideas. Your energy and your creativity love rituals because they remind the brain that something is important to you. When we create a ritual, we are signaling to the brain that something is coming … and there are many ways to transition into creative energy from stagnation. Often, when we feel blocked creatively, it’s that we’re drifting too far away from our rituals.

LEARN TO PROTECT YOUR ENERGY

Boundaries, baby. Boundaries. In order to reclaim your creative energy you are going to have to have fierce boundaries around who enters your energy field and when so that those blissful rituals you are implementing do not go adrift. I work best when I have a lot of solitude and space to spark my creative energy. I can’t do that if people are coming in and out of my life without warning or boundaries. But this also has to do with dealing with negative energy as well. If you have too many negative influence around you, you may need to learn to shield your positive energy better.

GET CLEAR ON YOUR YES PROJECTS

Being a creative person can sometimes mean we have a lot of ideas and not enough time — or energy — to work on them. Sometimes, though, it’s that we don’t know our YES projects. Our Yes projects are what drives our creative energy. When we are working on a Yes project, the energy follows. My Brave Yes Discovery Deep Dive is designed to help you brainstorm and choose your next YES project. When we have a clear direction that feels like a soul calling, creative energy just flows to us.

What’s your next Brave Yes creative project?

The Relentless Politics of Good Girl Syndrome

The Relentless Politics of Good Girl Syndrome

If you feel like you are constantly striving and doing everything right but always feeling as if you are getting things wrong, you may be experiencing Good Girl Syndrome.

On my Instagram account last week, I posted a cozy dose of inspiration that I thought up during my own softer moment.

“You can be weak. You are not coffee.”

The post was very popular — easily one of my most liked and commented on.

And the comments were RELIEF and GRATITUDE.

Among the comments were two women who were sidelined because of health issues that forced them to stop, rest and rely on others to do all the things.

If it weren’t for a hip surgery or both wrists being broken or sprained these women would not have stopped giving all of themselves to others.

This is why this series — The Politics of Languishing — is vital.

The truth of the matter is this: Striving for perfectionism is literally killing us.

We have to wake up and see what is happening to women — including and especially marginalized women of color. We have to see what we are doing to each other. And we have to be a part of the movement that values rest, ease and being healthy in mind, body and spirit.

shawn fink

The overworking and overdoing that is exhausting us needs to change.

The perfectionism that we expect of ourselves and each other needs to change.

And, now today, I’m breaking down another big cause of our languishing … Good Girl Syndrome.

Listen to this article as a podcast episode here:

What is Good Girl Syndrome and How Do You Know if You Suffer From It?

There is no doubt that from the time we are born, being a Good Girl is instilled in us. It’s in every conversation and every parenting guideline.

We move through the world teaching girls to be good. (Boys as well, but under a different set of oppressive Good Child expectations.)

This is a fine line in parenting but as you grow up and become an adult it’s easy to feel the Good Child conflict within and it may be showing up for you more and more as you get older and start to see how being The Good Girl is exhausting and driving your perfectionism stress.

Here’s some characteristics that I’ve seen showing up in myself, my friends and clients when we are trapped by Good Girl Syndrome:

  • You are overly responsible.
  • You are overly positive and cheerful in order to keep everyone else happy and uplifted.
  • You are always saying yes to things you do not really want to do.
  • You give too much time, energy and money to others.
  • Your own needs are constantly not being met.
  • You try to look perfect and your best at all times.
  • You stay quiet so you don’t rock the boat.
  • You go with what others want all the time.
  • You go above and beyond even when it’s not necessary.
  • You strive to prove your worth to the point of exhaustion.
  • You rarely challenge the status quo.
  • You care more about pleasing other than yourself.
  • You worry too much about what others think of you.
  • You try to stick to a hardcore routine and disciplined life and if you don’t you feel guilt or shame.

But, Good Girl Syndrome follows us everywhere in our day through everyone of our choices and decisions and it can show up in the strangest of moments in our lives. 

  • What your wear and how your wear it.
  • What you do with your food waste and where you will send donations.
  • How you spend your money — and on what. 
  • What you do for a living — or not. 
  • How you mother and parent with high expectations for your children.
  • How you show up as a partner or friends. 
  • How what you do and don’t do for others or to serve others lives in your mind.
  • Just how good of a person you are if you do or do not support a cause or attend an event.
  • Taking care of the earth and being stewards of the environment.

Being a good human being is noble. We love givers when we benefit from them. But if you are sacrificing your own wellness, health or dreams it may be time to run your choices through the Human Giver Syndrome filter.

Is Being a Good Girl a Part of Human Giver Syndrome?

Good Girls do Good.

Good girls give generously.

Good girls serve others without complaint.

Good Girls sacrifice their dreams for their children or their partners’ dreams.

In the book, “Down Girl: the Logic of Misogyny by moral philosopher Kate Manne” defines a world where there are two types of humans — those who have a moral obligation to be their full humanity where they are free to be as competitive, entitled, and motivated as they wish to be in order to be their best selves — and then there are the human givers, which are those who have a moral obligation to GIVE their full humanity, meaning they feel they must give away all of their time, their attention, their energy, their love, their needs, their hopes and their dreams to others for the good of others.

The Nagoski sisters — who I mentioned in my last piece in this series for their book Burnout, gave this a name: Human Giver Syndrome.

After reading about Human Giver Syndrome, I realized it’s very much connected to Good Girl Syndrome.

In their podcast, Feminist Survival Project 2020, The Nagoskis talked about these women who are extreme givers.

Amelia Nogoski said specifically that “it’s not just women who are the category of giver. It’s all people of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, people who don’t speak English as their first language,  (in the ) United States), trans people, poor people, gay and queer people, anyone with disadvantaged or marginalized identities expected to behave themselves to perform to conform with a roll of service to the people with advantage to make sure nobody ever feels uncomfortable and nobody has that person’s needs imposed on them. Because it’s a moral duty. If a human Giver falls short of their obligation or if they dare to ask to have a need met, they deserve to be punished. Which is where human giver syndrome starts to get really dark.”

Ouch.

They’ll be punished by human beings and givers who do not conform to the expectation to be givers will be punished by other givers, because how dare they how, dare they when all the other givers have to do this,” Amelia said. If one giver says, “Nope” and goes ahead and has a need of her own, she’ll be punished by other givers and if there is no one else around to punish her she’ll go ahead and punish herself if she’s internalized this moral obligation.

And, as with Good Girl Syndrome, human givers are expected to deny their own needs so that you are giving more than you can rest, more than you can complete your own stress cycle, and giving so much that there is absolutely never any time for ou to pursue your own passions or purpose in life.

“Just give, give, give,” Emily Nagoski said on the show.

“If we had set out to design a system to burn out half the population with emotional exhaustion, We could not have invented anything more efficient. One, the system where at least half of people are expected to behave themselves and submit their lives to the service of others without imposing their needs on anyone.”

Emily Nagoski

So if we know we should put on our own mask first but encounter guilt over doing so, that is absolutely the Good Girl Syndrome taking over — and that means FEAR is taking over as well.

The Fear Factor behind Good Girl Syndrome

Every day, we put on masks.

Good Girl masks.

The mask hides everything that is inside of us that is messy, chaotic, imperfect and exhausted.

The mask hides the fears.

  • Fear of losing friends and upsetting others. 
  • Fear of being not good enough. 
  • Fear of pushing people away.
  • Fear of missing out.
  • Fear of judgement.
  • Fear of rejection.
  • Fear of being a fraud.
  • Fear of being labeled.
  • Fear of disappointing others.

In my work as a Brave Yes Living & Leadership Coach, I work with women creatives, entrepreneurs and changemakers who are ready to play with being more courageous.

And that means that sometimes the Brave Yes choice is to the opposite of what your inner Good Girl is saying.

And that means embracing all the parts of you — including your chaos and inner messy parts. In fact, celebrating all of you is how you reach a feeling of wholeness.

In my coaching work, I work with my clients on identifying and transforming the fears that are holding you back from living your Brave Yes Life — a life where you feel free to create, lead, speak and stand out with more boldness, more courage.

On Being Whole-Heartedly You — Even and Especially when It Seems Selfish

“One of the most painfully inauthentic ways we show up in our lives sometimes is saying “yes” when we mean “no,” and saying “no” when we mean “hell yes.” I’m the oldest of four, a people-pleaser – that’s the good girl straitjacket that I wear sometimes. I spent a lot of my life saying yes all the time and then being pissed off and resentful.”

— Brené Brown

When we good all of the time and give all of ourselves — our time, our energy, our resources, our love, our gifts — and leave nothing left for ourselves to chase our own dreams and tend to our own inner longings, a few things happen.

First stress and burnout take over. Giving endlessly and always being the good girl is not a sustainable way to live.

Next, you enter the Land of Bitter and Sour.

And then the fallout really begins.

This is when you feel a sense of languishing, of emptiness, of feeling lost and scattered.

When our your needs or inner longings are ignored or pushed aside for others, and you lose your sense of Self.

And yet doing what feels good for you is a part of being resilient and strong in mind, body and spirit.

Your wholeness can only happen if you are listening and acting on your own inner longings. And to make time for what matters requires space and time.

Sometimes when we speak up, use our voice, ask for our needs to be met we will encounter resistance and friction from others.

We may even be disliked.

And that’s OK.

That’s how change happens.

How to Liberate Yourself from Good Girl Syndrome — And should you?

“I love saying ‘yes’ and I love saying ‘please.’ Saying ‘yes’ doesn’t mean I don’t know how to say no, and saying ‘please’ doesn’t mean I am waiting for permission. ‘Yes please’ sounds powerful and concise. It’s a response and a request. It is not about being a good girl; it is about being a real woman.”

Amy Poehler

I would call myself a very good girl who is just done with being good for the sake of being good.

There comes a time in our lives when we give and conform to the point of exhaustion and resentment and we finally just emotionally burst and explode and all of our fragile parts scatter and the process of picking up the pieces is just too hard. So we start giving less.

Most of us will never shed our Good Girl Image entirely.

But we can work to lessen it, we can do small Brave Yes actions to design a more sustainable, joyful life and career for ourselves.

When I work with women who are ready to say YES to their dreams and living into their full potential, the first thing we almost always have to break down is finding the time to do the work.

If you are giving all of yourself to others it’s hard to give yourself the time and space to find out what you love and what brings you alive and healing all at once.

And so here are some questions to ask yourself if you think you might be caught up in Good Girl Syndrome:

  • How can I make this more playful and fun for me?
  • What will I sacrifice by saying yes — and is it worth it?
  • What boundary do I need to set here?
  • What do I need?
  • What do I want?
  • What am I trying to avoid?
  • Is this worth losing someone or something over?
  • What would really happen if I drop this ball?
  • How can I be kinder to myself?

In my Brave Yes Living Tips, I offer a few more radical ways to live for yourself and chase after your dreams for this one lifetime you are experiencing.

There is no time like right now to start living for yourself.

And those who stick with you as you disrupt and challenge the status quo will be your people.

Offering a Liberating Future for Our Girls — and Boys — and Ourselves.

“Teach her to reject likeability. Her job is not to make herself likeable, her job is to be her full self, a self that is honest and aware of the equal humanity of other people.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

As a mother of teenage daughters, I have struggled with the Good Girl Syndrome very much. 

Just like every parent, we have taught them to be nice. But I find myself telling them often not to be too nice.

I want them to be compassionate and kind to ALL people AND I want them to have boundaries AND to not be assholes to others and I find this to be tricky, tricky ground to walk on. 

Because I also know that when you have too many boundaries in place, you can inadvertently put up too many barriers between you and others, creating a sense of loneliness and isolation. Sometimes we have to let our boundaries drop to let others in.

We can begin to form a more liberating future for our girls — and boys — by not shaming them into being good by our own standards but rather helping them decide what Being a Good Human is for themselves.

A good girl is not to sit quiet and look pretty — unless SHE decides that’s what it is for herself.

A good boy is not one that is tough and manly — unless he decides that is what he wants for himself.

When we stop defining perfect as good we will be liberated.

When we start to see our mistakes and imperfections as good enough, we will be liberated.

When we start playing with feeling alive and chasing our dreams and not feeling guilty for it, we will be liberated.

When we start accepting and embracing everyone’s imperfect humanity, we will be liberated.

The Power and Destruction of Perfectionism

The Power and Destruction of Perfectionism

What stops you from writing or creating with wild abandon? 

What holds you back from going for it as a brave leader?

What prevents you from going after your most wild inner longings?

Likely, your answer is fear. 

Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of making a mistake. 

And I would clarify that behind that fear is something else: Perfectionism. 

Every single one of my private coaching clients who are trying to uplevel in their life, business or career has struggled with some form of perfectionism.

And this is one obstacle I know that prevents so many creatives, entrepreneurs and changemakers from living and leading more boldly so that we can show up more visibly and confidently in this world and make a difference. 

Perfectionism stops us from doing what brings us most alive, what brings us meaning and purpose and what can offer us the most joy. And it does so by keeping us small and quiet in a world that rewards the most boisterous and visible.

Shawn fink

I would absolutely call myself, at this point, a healing perfectionist. I am not yet in full recovery as I still struggle to lay down my perfectionistic tendencies in some parts of my life. But I am absolutely on track to care less about just about everything very soon. And, I’m learning to live a Brave Yes Life despite of my own perfectionism.

But, first, let’s talk about what perfectionism is — and isn’t.

Listen to this episode now or keep reading below.

The Power and Destruction of Perfectionism

The politics of perfectionism?

Last week, I talked about the politics of overworking and overdoing as part of my series called The Politics of Languishing, a multi-article look into the reason women have been languishing between survival mode and thriving for years.

Now, I want to talk about overworking’s very close cousin — perfectionism.

Nearly every woman I talk to says, proudly, she’s a perfectionist.

That’s not surprising. Calling ourselves perfectionists has become a bit of a self-indulgent way to describe one’s self.

However, being a perfectionist can be dangerous and unhealthy.

But first, let’s dive into how we became so obsessed with perfectionism.

My own love-hate with the Internet and social media began in 2016 because of the pressure of perfectionism.

Prior to 2016, I loved social media and the beautiful connections it brought into my life. I used Facebook and Instagram avidly. 

Until I no longer felt like I could keep up with the image of it all — or just refused to keep up with it all.

To this day, I adore my computer friends — coaches, business owners, writers, creatives, makers, changemakers around the world who I connect with and feel on the same page with even if we’ll never — or rarely — ever meet in person. 

But at some point over the last decade, though, real life got snatched up by perfect idealism and what we see online now is a level of perfectionism that is nearly impossible to attain, and yet attractive enough to keep women striving for it all. 

And this leaves you feeling as if you are not enough. 

When algorithms began rewarding beautiful lifestyle influencer culture and that took over and began to flood the airwaves, one thing was clear: I would not be able to keep up with the gorgeous-at-all-times aesthetic and elegant behind-the-scenes of the online world.

I just wasn’t into that sort of thing. And so I haven’t put much energy into social media as a result — until recently when I re-joined Instagram with a whole new intention.

I’m an interior designer for human beings, not rooms. 

shawn fink

I care about people — especially empowering women and girls. I don’t care what your rooms look like. I care what your inner landscape FEELS like.

And I can tell you that from my own understanding of human beings, from my own research and awareness, I can, without a doubt, declare that most women feel exhausted from all the striving they are doing to keep up.

And so today’s installment of The Politics of Languishing is diving into the power and influence that perfectionism has over us and how it’s truly exhausting us, possibly more than all that hard work we’ve been doing to keep up. 

Not only are women working longer and longer hours — either in the home, at work or in their business — to keep up, but they are also striving endlessly to live a life of perfection.

If it’s true that women have been languishing for years, and overworking and overdoing is contributing to that feeling of emptiness, then it’s also important that we recognize and become fully aware of the pressure that perfectionism is adding into our everyday lives. 

The Power and Destruction of Perfectionism

What is Perfectionism and Why Does it Haunt Us So?

We can argue that striving for perfection is not a new struggle for women. Just think back to June Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver. Women wanted to be June, the archetypical suburban white mom that was held up as the ideal woman. 

And so the idea of perfectionism isn’t new but it has evolved and even gotten more and more out of hand. 

Paul Hewitt, author of Perfectionism: A Relational Approach to Conceptualization, Assessment and Treatment, said in a recent interview on perfectionism as a mental health issue  that “Perfectionism is a broad personality style characterized by a hypercritical relationship with one’s self. 

“Setting high standards and aiming for excellence can be positive traits, but perfectionism is dysfunctional because it’s underscored by a person’s sense of themselves as permanently flawed or defective.”  PAUL HEWITT

“One way they try to correct that is by being perfect,” Hewitt said. 

Tanya Geisler, a coach and expert in the Imposter Complex, says that perfectionism is a common behavior for imposter complex.

“We are constantly bombarded with images of what perfect looks like — even if it is mostly completely unattainable — and we internalize it from a young age,” she wrote in her post on overcoming imposter complex.

The Power and Destruction of Perfectionism

Perfectionism and the Patriarchy: The Root Cause of Perfectionism in Our Society

Perfectionism is deeply rooted in both the patriarchal — a system that favors men — and white supremacy culture — the system that favors white people.

Sociologist and gender (in)equality researcher Sylvia Walby defines patriarchy as “a system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, oppress, and exploit women”

And so how does perfectionism and patriarchal systems connect?

Women are constantly trying to strive to keep up. We do this through all behaviors that result in being perfect … showing up on time, how we dress and look, going above and beyond to stand out and make an impression, people pleasing and being extra kind so we’re taken more seriously. 

All this efforting we’re doing day in and day out in order to be perfect is actualy intended to keep us feeling safe and comfortable. We don’t want to be rejected. We don’t want to be outcasts. We don’t want to miss out. We don’t want to look like imposters.

And so we strive all day and all night to keep up the appearance that have our act together and nothing is wrong. 

And all that striving to look good and look joyful and look smart and look like our homes are ideal and our families are happy is absolutely exhausting.

Ah, but that’s not all. 

There’s another power system at play in our perfectionistic standards as well — one that I believe is a huge problem we must address — and that’s how perfectionism and racism are tied together.

According to Showing Up for Racial Justice, white supremacy culture is upheld through perfectionism characteristics such as the following:

  • little appreciation expressed among people for the work that others are doing; appreciation that is expressed usually directed to those who get most of the credit anyway
  • more common is to point out either how the person or work is inadequate
  • or even more common, to talk to others about the inadequacies of a person or their work without ever talking directly to them
  • mistakes are seen as personal, i.e. they reflect badly on the person making them as opposed to being seen for what they are — mistakes
  • making a mistake is confused with being a mistake, doing wrong with being wrong
  • little time, energy, or money put into reflection or identifying lessons learned that can improve practice, in other words little or no learning from mistakes
  • tendency to identify what ís wrong; little ability to identify, name, and appreciate what ís right
The Power and Destruction of Perfectionism

The Destruction of Perfectionism and the Negative Impact its Doing to Your Mind, Body and Spirit

First, let me say that this article and this perspective is written by me and from my own research and experience as a white woman. It is rooted in my white privilege. It is rooted in my experience as a woman who grew up in a rural community and worked hard to live a very stereotypical life. 

And, it’s also rooted in the work I do as a coach for creatives, entrepreneurs and changemakers who struggle with shedding perfectionism so they can live a more purpose-driven, impactful life of ease and joy.

We know that perfectionism is causing extreme exhaustion and a feeling of not enough. All we have to do is ask any working parents we see how they are doing right now.

It’s also possible that perfectionism is creating an enormous amount of stress and displeasure in our lives because we can’t possibly ever actually achieve the level of perfect we are striving for but we keep trying anyway.

And it could possibly be killing us, as well. 

“The rise in perfectionism is especially troubling because it has been linked to an array of mental health issues — a meta-analysis of 284 studies found that high levels of perfectionism were correlated with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, deliberate self-harm and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The constant stress of striving to be perfect can also leave people fatigued, stressed and suffering from headaches and insomnia,” according to a well-researched article on Vox connecting mental health and perfectionism.

And, sadly, perfectionism is on the rise.

In that same article, the authors talked about a study on the prevalence of perfectionism that found an increase in the number of people struggling with perfectionism. In 1989, about nine percent of respondents posted high scores in socially prescribed perfectionism, but by the end of the study, that had doubled to about 18 percent.

“On average, young people are more perfectionistic than they used to be,” Andrew Hill of the University of Bath said in the Vox article, and “the belief that other people expect you to be perfect has increased the most.” 

All of that destruction that perfectionism is doing is a concern because it’s been found that high levels of perfectionism can be linked to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, deliberate self-harm and obsessive, compulsive disorder. 

It can also contribute to exhaustion, stress, headaches and insomnia. 

The Power and Destruction of Perfectionism

Proving Ourselves in a Growing List of Perfect Life Domains 

When June Cleaver was all that we aspired to be, we simply needed to have a nice home, nice clothing and a perfect family. 

If June was still our role model, she would also also be volunteering as the PTO president, working a second or possibly a third job and putting up aesthetic pictures of her life on Instagram to prove her worth and her joy and trying to construct the perfect photo gallery wall of her perfect family life.

The truth is that there is much more rubble of perfectionism to climb out of as modern women.

Our domains to strive in and be perfect in have expanded immensely. It’s no longer about just how we look and our family life.

“Perfectionism has seeped into every single part of our modern lives as women and it is beginning to take all of our joy and ease. It’s beginning to steal all of our free time and mental energy, leaving little time for real pleasure.”

Shawn fink

Here are just some of the perfect life domains I see my friends and colleagues struggling with as well as new clients of mine when they first come to work with me:

  • The Perfect Body
  • The Perfect Home
  • The Perfect Self-Care
  • The Perfect Family
  • The Perfect Career
  • The Perfect Vacation
  • The Perfect Workspace
  • The Perfect Image
  • The Perfect Activist
  • The Perfect Cook
  • The Perfect Social Media Account
  • The Perfect Reading Stack
  • The Perfect Planner Pages
  • The Perfect Bullet Journal Page
  • The Perfect Meal
  • The Perfect Plant Wall
  • The Perfect Child

What happens when we see only visual images of perfection day in and day out, we don’t realize how those images seep into our brain and replace whatever enough was for us. And it begins a vicious cycle of not enough. In fact, all of this constant striving for perfectionism is so exhausting that even influencers are burning out. 

And then there is the perfectionism of White Supremacy that is exhausting Black women who are tired of feeling like they need to be “Twice as Good” as white women and are realizing they need to unlearn perfect as a way of life.

I am concerned that the mental health issues we are seeing today are just as much about perfectionism as they are about our generation’s inability to unplug, slow down and rest. We are so caught up in the patriarchal system of overworking and overdoing of the past that we’re exhausting ourselves and being more ineffective as a result. 

All this proving ourselves is causing more harm than good. The women who come to me for coaching tell me they are burned out, they are exhausted, they want to make a difference but the truth is they can barely find the energy to shower and do their work. 

And I wonder if all that proving themselves is what’s more of their issue than they know. 

Until we get under the hood of what is driving your perfectionism, it’s hard to tell. 

A client of mine who has trouble relaxing recently told me about a quote she read that resonated with her and encouraged her to stop trying to hard to do everything so perfectly.

“If you have something to prove, you are still a prisoner,” by Edith Eger Edith who survived imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp. Her parents were murdered her first day there. 

The Power and Destruction of Perfectionism

What’s Healthy Perfectionism and What’s Unhealthy?

Not all perfectionism is destructive.

But when it is we need to pay attention.

Just this week, I let myself off the hook to publish this piece on a Tuesday rather than a Monday, since Monday was a holiday here in the United States.

My brain was yelling at me and telling me that I am supposed to publish on a Monday. I must publish on a Monday. To do so, though, would have required taking time away from family and working on the weekend.

The voices in my head kept shouting: You can’t fail. They will reject you. You can’t let people down. You can’t possibly do something that isn’t what you said.

Well, I published on Tuesday, not Monday. And everyone survived. 

And, quite frankly, no one cared, either.

Part of my identity is wrapped up in doing — and doing exceedingly well. In fact, one of my top strengths is having an appreciation of beauty and excellence.

I always strive for excellence but sometimes that can mean I stumble through and get stopped by perfectionism. 

And so, as part of my own healing from this awful pressure that we put ourselves through, I’m learning to strive for excellence without expecting perfect, which means I focus on giving perfect effort not perfect results.

It means I am finishing things even if they aren’t how I envisioned them finished. 

It means I’m choosing Radical Rest even when I know I could be perfecting something a little bit more — like this blog post.

When we strive for excellence, we are striving to do OUR best, which may not be perfect, but we can let go of what others are going to think of us in the process.

However, there’s another form of perfectionism that takes it to a whole new level and that happens when we worry too much about what others are going to think of us or our work. That is called Toxic Perfectionism. 

shawn fink

Like Toxic Productivity, which I discussed in the first piece in this series, toxic perfectionism shows up when we lean too far into the extremes and operate in an all-or-nothing mindset. Toxic perfectionism operates under the mindset that if it can’t be done perfectly it should not get done. Toxic perfectionism can also result in a diminished sense of self-worth if you tie perfectionistic outcomes to your inner worth.

The truth is that my own perfectionism runs toxic in only one area of my life — and that’s my creative output and my work. 

My house is far from perfect. Same for my fashion sense. Even my hair, I’d argue, is never perfect. I am OK with imperfect children, though they would argue otherwise, and I’m OK with imperfect social media accounts.

But my creative work and coaching … that’s another situation entirely.  In the past, if I didn’t think a project would turn out perfect, I would quit. Or, I’d easily let a mistake ruin my day or cause a dip into my own enoughness.  And when something doesn’t turn out well, I beat myself up about it relentlessly.

This is my growth area.

Healthy perfectionism — which I prefer to say striving toward excellence rather than perfection — can be a very good thing for our lives.

Healthy perfectionism shows up in characteristics such as:

  • Setting meaningful, powerful goals and sticking to them
  • Trying new things and being OK if you fail
  • Using curiosity to solve problems
  • Being OK with trial and error
  • Feeling satisfied with your efforts
  • Finishing things even if they aren’t how you envisioned them
The Power and Destruction of Perfectionism

A Simple Yet Powerful Way to Start to Heal Your Perfectionism

My clients are high achievers. As creatives, entrepreneurs and changemakers they want to do big things. Epic things. Everyday #BraveYes things that make an impact and a difference in their families and communities. 

And they want ease and to enjoy this one life.

And, almost always, they hire me to help them because they are afraid.

Afraid of failing, of not getting it right, of messing up and much more. They are afraid of change. Afraid of doing it all alone. Afraid of not following through.

At the root of all of our fears is a very high level of perfectionism seeping through like a rainwater on a tent wall. It’s invisible. And yet it damages everything in its wake.  

shawn fink

This is why I work with my clients on unearthing their best selves from the rubble of perfectionism, overworking and many other invisible obstacles so they can carve out new stories around what it means to have unshakeable resilience — so that when you do big, scary, life-changing things you don’t quit too early or give u entirely. 

Part of that work we do is on creating a new story around making mistakes. 

In their book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Code, Emily and Amelia Nagoski wrote about the Mad Woman in the Attic, a reference to the book Jane Eyre.

I resonated with this metaphor very much as a Jane Eyre fan. In the book Jane Eyre, there is a wife in the attic who is not mentally well. 

The authors of Burnout use this metaphor to talk about the inner critic that is hiding within all of us and they ask us to name it and visualize it so it’s not just some vague powerful bully hanging over us.

This is a similar exercise I use with my clients who are trapped under the rubble of extreme perfectionism. We work to identify your inner taskmaster that is influencing you to overwork, overdo and over-perfect everything so you can actually finish things, rest and take it easy on yourself. The goal is to make an impact with your art, work or leadership and stop getting in your own way.

And, honestly, it’s helpful for all of us because we all have an inner critic that is controlling us and it’s vital to know who she  — or he — is so that we can address her fears and worries to bring a sense of comfort. 

Sometimes we have multiple inner critics and it takes time to unearth them all. It’s important to keep getting to know this part of you to experience wholeness.

The Freedom to Be Whole AND Imperfectly Perfect

In my coaching work, I am focused on helping my clients feel and experience wholeness — where all your many parts can come together and align.

For me, when I feel whole, I feel free.

Wholeness requires that we let go of perfectionism. Wholeness demands access to all of our messiest, insecure parts. After all, it’s all of our many parts that make us, us. 

Without my chaos and my overwhelmed brain and my empath ways, I am not me.

Just like without my intense spiritual gifts and strategic visioning skills, I am not me. 

“When we can finally bring all of ourselves — mistakes and imperfections, included — to the forefront, we feel liberated.” 

shawn fink

At dinner the other night, my husband and I were talking about the most free people we can think of in this lifetime.

I told him I think Jim Carrey is a free man. He can say what he wants. Do what he wants. He has no worries about what others think of him.

I idolize people like Jim Carrey, Pink, Madonna, and others who have no filter, that are willing to take life and career risks that pull no punches.

But not all of us are going to be the loud, dancing when everyone is looking kind of person.

Some of us are about quiet power.

Some of us are doing brave things without notice.

As an introvert, I believe in everyday Brave Yeses that aren’t going to make a big splash but will make a big impact.

And I continue to strive to be fully free like that though I have a long way to go.

So for this interest on this article, I researched it, and sure enough Jim Carrey is actually a perfectionist — as most of us are. 

But that’s the thing. He’s risen above his perfectionism not for himself — but for others. 

“My father used to brag that I wasn’t a ham — I was the whole pig. And he treated my talent as if it was his second chance. When I was about 28, after a decade as a professional comedian, I realized one night in LA that the purpose of my life had always been to free people from concern, like my dad. When I realized this, I dubbed my new devotion, “The Church of Freedom From Concern” — “The Church of FFC”— and I dedicated myself to that ministry,” he said in his commencement speech at Maharishi University of Management, May 24th, 2014.

In order to get to that place where we are all totally free we must work together to allow mistakes, to be OK with weird, to accept and embrace people living, working and leading in full color.

Shawn fink

We must trust each other to try and fail at things. 

We must be willing to admit that we attempted the new or the impossible and it didn’t go as we had hoped and that’s OK. 

We must be willing to let imperfect be perfectly OK.

We must be OK with yards with dandelions in the grass. Those weeds turn into seeds that spread wishes and dreams.

Only then can we ALL be free.

This article is the second in a multi-part series called The Politics of Languishing. Read the first installment here. Learn about languishing here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Shawn Fink is the host and founder of The Brave Yes Show. She is a coach that helps women dig out from the rubble of fear, shoulds and expectations in order to create, lead, live and love more courageously. Join her email list below.