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I was recently facilitating a work-life balance workshop for women who were returning to work after maternity leave. Juggling career and motherhood certainly isn’t a new topic! I use the word ‘juggle’ as its what my experience felt like – but I’ve heard it described as a balance, dance, calibration.  Whatever word we use I know first-hand, and from my executive coaching work, how challenging and exhausting this period can be. 

It’s ok not to be perfect

When my boys were young I tried to juggle all my roles perfectly – family, home, career.  It took me a few years to realise this was not only unrealistic and unhelpful – it was impossible. The psychologist Kahler identified five behavioural drivers that motivate us, one of which is Be Perfect. Each of the five drivers has positive merits but also drawbacks when we’re stressed and go into overdrive. To understand your behavioural drivers you can take complete a questionnaire

Some of the benefits of “Be Perfect” are:

  • High standards
  • Attention to detail
  • Being well organised
  • Taking responsibility

Some of the drawbacks of “Be Perfect” are:

  • Being overly self-critical
  • Difficulty delegating and trusting others
  • Losing the big picture
  • Becoming single minded

My experience isn’t unique. Through my coaching work I’ve realised having unrealistic or perfect expectations are limiting and get in the way.  This is a familiar feeling and experience for many mums as they return to work from maternity leave and manage their work-life juggle

Managing my perfectionism

There were two pivotal moments that helped me develop more realistic expectations.

The first was a lightbulb moment when my boys were young and I was studying for a psychology degree. Before this I’d considered perfectionism a badge of honour. And it had been helpful during the first phase of my career when I could be single minded, focussed and work incredibly long hours.

One of the degree modules was Child Development and we were introduced to the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott and his concept of the ‘good enough mother’. The idea that good enough was good enough was novel, enabling and liberating. I became kinder to myself and those around me. I didn’t need to keep running myself ragged trying to live up to some ideal. My self talk changed from “I should be able to do it all” to “good enough is fine”. I still had my perfectionist tendencies but I’d found a way of managing them and bringing them under control – most of the time – as I juggled the demands of home and career.

The second moment was some years when I came across the inspiring work of the researcher Brene Brown

In Daring Greatly she writes about herself as a ‘recovering perfectionist and aspiring good enough-ist’. This is me! She describes perfectionism as a self-destructive and addictive belief system. For women there’s also the cultural expectation to be perfect – and to look like it takes no effort to be perfect. This helped me understand why it was so hard to let go of my perfectionism – even with more self-awareness and catching myself when I’ve set unrealistic expectations.

The work life juggle can be a little more manageable

If we let go of aspiring to “be perfect” and instead aspire to be good enough.

Good enough means being realistic and recognising mistakes come with learning and growing.

Good enough means we’re balancing a rich and full life.  

Be good enough with pride!

Get in touch and take the next step to being your brilliant self.