How to Finally Crush Perfectionism & Imposter Syndrome

woman celebrating on the other side of imposter syndrome

Photo credit: (useng)

What happens when two very honest and successful women – like Viola Davis and Jameela Jamil – get together to talk about the things that hold women back? 

Yup. You hear a lot of honesty about perfectionism, imposter syndrome, and how to navigate them. 

The problem of perfectionism

“Perfection is the enemy of progress,” said Jamil, actress, writer, and advocate. “It’s also like the Loch Ness monster. It’s a myth.”

“It is a myth,” said Davis, winner of Academy, Tony, and Emmy Awards. And like Brené Brown says, ‘If perfectionism is driving the car, then shame is riding shotgun.’

“Perfectionism makes us constantly distracted with our failures, constantly looking forward rather than where we are at right now, constantly feeling you have to be better than everyone else,” Davis added.

“In fact,” she said, “perfectionism stops you from moving forward, and it stops you from connection. There is no way to move forward without it being clunky.”

Why perfectionism is not your fault

But the fact that perfection is not attainable has not settled into us yet, Davis added.

“And it is imposed mostly on women, right?” said Jamil.

“Oh, totally,” Davis agreed. “We do not hold men to the same standards., We have this amazing redemption arc and process for men. But we don’t give the benefit of the doubt to women. And so it is upon us to relinquish that fear of imperfection and understand that imperfection is human. That is how we grow.”

How to overcome imposter syndrome

People who seem to have reached the pinnacle of success also experience imposter syndrome, said Davis, who famously acknowledged on the night she won her Academy Award that she does. “They’re just not sharing it.”

“So I have an unusual attitude towards imposter syndrome,” Jamil interjected.  “I treat it like a wedding that I have crashed. Where I’m just like, ‘You know what? I probably don’t deserve to be here. But I’ve gotten in somehow, and now I’m going to get some cake.’” 

What I say to myself, Davis added, is, “Oh, I’m feeling a little bit insecure, but not so insecure that it’s going to stop me.”

The power of speaking your truth 

‘We are taught Don’t bother anyone with your troubles. Don’t show any weakness. Don’t be imperfect.’ And so we are shaking within,” said Jamil. 

“But once you break that and just say, ‘No, I’m going to tell the truth, I can tell you that the world doesn’t stop turning. If anything, the world opens up, and now you are free,” Jamil continued. You are a free, honest woman.

“And so I urge you to just, even in the case of microaggressions, just start letting people know how you feel. Start telling the truth. Start taking little risks.” 

Viola Davis
Jameela Jamil

Viola Davis and Jameela Jamil spoke at the 2022 Massachusetts Conference for Women. This article is based on their talk. Quotes have been slightly edited for brevity.