“Perfect is the enemy of the good.” You’ve probably seen or heard this quote, or some iteration of it, somewhere before. But how many of us actually take the message to heart? Unfortunately, not too many, it seems. According to a recent study published by the American Psychological Association, rates of perfectionism are on the rise. Researchers found that compared to previous generations, young people today demand more of themselves and feel enormous pressure to meet those demands flawlessly. This unrelenting drive to always do your best and be the best has obvious downsides—burnout, anxiety, and depression to name a few.
Of course, we all want the best for our Girl Scouts, but getting the best shouldn’t come at the expense of their well-being. We can do our part to shift this perfectionist mindset by letting our girls know that sometimes, being good enough is perfectly fine—read on to find out how.
Decide What Matters
Our energy and time are limited, but many of us still try to figure out how we can give our 100% to 100% of the things. (Raise your hand if you’re guilty—I know I am!) It’s also very likely that you don’t care about all those things equally; while there are some projects and interests that you’re jazzed about, others are just another checkbox to tick off. When you have a lot to do, ultimately, you make choices about how those things get done. This is a healthy way of viewing tasks and responsibilities—if everything is a priority, then nothing is really a priority, right? The same is true for girls.
Work with your girls to decide what matters to them, and how much time they’re willing to devote to each. This can be as simple as making a list of responsibilities, hobbies, and interests, and then ranking them based on their personal priorities. You can also opt to use the Eisenhower Matrix to list and divide tasks based on importance and urgency. Of course, this method shouldn’t be used as a means to shirk responsibility—I don’t know anyone who’s passionate about taking out the trash, yet it has to be done—but as a way for girls to more clearly see where they’d like to focus their energy.
You Do You
In the age of Instagram, it’s easy to fall into the comparison trap. We see pictures of other people’s seemingly perfect lives and wonder, if they can do it all, why can’t I? And what’s wrong with me if I can’t? It should be clear by now that rarely does social media tell the full story of anyone’s inner life—these are merely their highlight reels. Even if we intellectually know this, the emotional pang of falling short still feels very real.
So, what to do? In addition to teaching girls media literacy skills, we can also heed the advice of psychologist and author of The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubormirsky: “People who are happy use themselves for internal evaluation. A happy runner compares himself to his last run, not to others who are faster.” In other words, we’re not willfully ignoring that someone will always be faster, better, or smarter than us, but we don’t let that affect our self-esteem and how we view our own abilities and progress. They are not our benchmark for success.
You Can’t Do It All
Remind girls to regularly check in with themselves. On any given day, their reserves (emotional, mental, and physical) might be all over the place. Some days, they’ll be able to tackle every single task on their list with gusto, and other days, they might only be able to cross off one or two things. This is part and parcel of being a human being—we all have limits! Ask girls what their capacity is for that day. Then, let that be their compass in guiding how they decide to show up and perform.
Like any habit, it will take some time to steer away from perfectionism and towards the mentality that good enough is sometimes all we can do—and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think the bigger message we should all put forth, especially to our impressionable Girl Scouts, is that our worth isn’t tied to our performance. There’s a societal pressure to always be producing and to keep our eyes on the next prize. In the process, our self-worth can end up being yoked to tangible accomplishments. But this far from the truth. Our self-worth is inherent—what we choose to do with our time and energy is just icing on the cake.
Lily Yu –Lily is a Program Resource Specialist at River Valleys. She earned her BA in comparative literature and Japanese from Hamilton College and has a background in publishing and advertising. Though she wasn’t a Girl Scout growing up, Lily is making up for lost time as a volunteer and troop cookie manager for her daughter’s Brownie troop. In her free time, she enjoys going for long walks, reading, and spending time with her family (and rescue dog, Neil!).