Light of the Imperfect Superwoman
For about 50 years, the phenomenon of “superwoman syndrome” describes the pressure for women to not only do it all well, but to excel in every role-played: partner, lover, colleague, sister, daughter, mother, friend and so on.
The Webster dictionary defines perfect as, “being entirely without fault or defect”, “satisfying all requirements”, or “corresponding to an ideal standard”
And defines imperfect as “not perfect” or “incomplete”.
At times, we may focus heavily on how others perceive us and we tend to make uninformed assumptions about others...“She is so perfect” or “what a hot mess”.
I can remember after my third year as a faculty member I was at a gathering after work with women from various departments across campus. We were sharing stories about work and began to share a few personal stories too.
I began to share the story about beginning my first semester as a full time faculty member at Elon University.
To kick off the fall 2012 semester, I spent the weekend with my parents in Staunton, Virginia moving furniture out of my beautiful four-bedroom house nicely located on a cuddle sac in a great neighborhood with wonderful friends to make my move into a two-bedroom apartment with my four year old son.
Caelan had never lived in an apartment and the last time I lived in an apartment was from 2001 -2002 as a graduate student at Central Michigan University. The first week in the apartment with Caelan was hilarious. Around the second day of being there, a neighbor who lived below came upstairs and banged on my door. I opened the door and he said, “What are you doing up here?” (Well, Caelan was jumping and dancing all over the place, which we did all the time in our house in Staunton).
I told the neighbor as I slowly opened the door so he could see Caelan and said, “I am trying to teach a 4 year old how to live in an apartment, it’s not going so well is it.” We both laughed and no issues ensued.
Amongst the laughter and sitting in my apartment my feelings of being overwhelmed over a mortgage payment, apartment rent and the thought of not seeing my son during the every other weekend excursions to his father’s house would begin to build.
I started that first week of classes with much loss in my heart without anyone around me knowing anything about what was taking place. I only told two close friends on campus who had known me for about 15 years.
I would tell myself “You can’t let anyone here know what you’re going through they will think you are a hot mess.” My goal was to show what a great colleague and teacher I was and to hide any inclinations of what I was going through in my personal life. I wanted to be a perfect picture. It took me almost three months to tell my colleagues in my office.
One day I got the courage to tell my colleagues I needed to discuss something with all of them. Before I could say anything, one of them said, “Oh no are you going back to James Madison University”. It was so great that this was the response; I laughed and said, “No, I’m getting a divorce.” All of a sudden, the divorce did not seem like such a big deal.
During that time I would have colleagues ask me to go to lunch or out for a drink to socialize after work. I would decline because financially I could not do it. And many times people would complement me on my clothes not knowing I spent $5 - $10 dollars at Goodwill for the ensemble. After being married eleven years, I struggled with the idea of “how does a single woman socialize” and that is a whole other post in itself. We will come back to that on another Friday.
That first year I felt like I was hiding and shaming myself internally trying to be the perfect mother, colleague, daughter, partner (if I had a chance to go on a date), friend and so on.
After I shared this story one of the women at the table said “whenever I see you, you are always put together...perfect. I can’t believe you were going through that, I never knew?”
We began a conversation at the table about how we perceive one another and asking why we do this. We create space where we shame others and ourselves instead of embracing our authenticity. We are all superwomen in our own special way.
Brene` Brown shares in her book titled, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You Should Be and Embrace Who You Are, that perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. She takes time to busts myths about perfectionism and admits to being a recovering perfectionist and becoming an aspiring good-enoughist.
I like the idea of being a good-enoughist, because there will be days that we will be a rock star and there will be days that we sit back and say yeah, that was good enough.
Brown shares, “Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”
For us to share the light of the imperfect superwoman, I share three points from Brown for how to overcome perfectionism from her chapter titled, “Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism”:
1. Acknowledge our vulnerabilities. By taking the risk to be vulnerable, we create an opportunity to experience connection.
2. Develop shame resilience. Avoid shame and fear by speaking about imperfections honestly. Be slow to judge self and others.
3. Practice self-compassion. Be warm to self and dodge the urge for self-criticism.
Be an imperfect superwoman (hero) today!