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The Good Girl’s Guide to Saving* the World

Let go of perfectionism and unleash your inner wise woman instead

* as a first step, let’s let go of trying to “save” it

Like many of my clients, I’m a recovering “good girl.”

Good girl-ism can manifest in an assortment of ways, from taking responsibility for others’ emotions, to avoiding conflict, to seeking perfectionism in everything you do. (Here’s a helpful book if you’re interested in exploring more.)

I find these trained responses particularly frustrating when the person they hijack is working to make the world a better place. Good girl-ism freezes our agency, creativity, and willingness to learn… when these are precisely the traits needed to address complex social and environmental challenges.

Since one of the best ways to kick an old pattern of behavior is to name it, dissect what it looks like, then construct an alternative response to embrace instead, I've outlined a few archetypical “good girl” responses I see in myself and my clients… and some ideas for an alternative “wise woman” approach to try instead.

What the "Good Girl" Approach to Eco-Social Action Looks Like

✓ Waiting until you know "enough"

Waiting lets us avoid making a mistake, avoid offending someone, avoid looking dumb… or so the story in our head goes. In fact, all waiting usually does is keep us from taking meaningful action, even when it’s urgently needed.

Personally, I struggle most with this when it comes to racial justice work. When I lean into my good girl habits, the fear of making a mistake or saying something unintentionally offensive has me lean too far to the sidelines.

✓ Needing to get it right the first time

In other words, chasing perfectionism and not taking risks. This leads to us playing small, failing to experiment or be creative, or not even trying things at all.

Ironically, these tendencies can come out even more strongly when we’re working toward something that really matters to us – it can feel like we’re letting people down or failing to do justice to things we really care about. Try to recognize that this is the short term lie that keeps us small, when the long-term truth is that embracing this thinking leads to us just doing less, period.

✓ Taking responsibility for everything

The road to burnout is paved precisely with this: Feeling personal responsibility to “save” the world, taking on all its problems as well as those of your coworkers and organizations. Look closely at this urge, and you might find some silliness in the standards you're holding yourself too. Look deeply at this urge, and you might find it’s rooted in a sense of “not enoughness.” If you can heal that a bit, you’ll show up better for yourself and the world.

✓ Ignoring or minimizing successes

Most do-gooders I know are actually more ambitious in their visions for the world than, for example, certain bros who want to build a private jet to Mars. When your goal is to get a big investor or have a successful IPO, milestones along that road to success are fairly obvious.

When your vision is a world with open borders, the eradication of world hunger or reorganizing our economy and energy policy to avoid catastrophic effects of climate change, the goal is so big and so far off that it can be hard to recognize real progress. Working to change complex systems and cultural norms doesn’t happen overnight, and even big milestones can feel so far from the ultimate goal. But failing to celebrate wins can feel like, well, just neverending failing.

What the "Wise Woman" Approach to Eco-Social Action Looks Like

✓ Rooting into what really matters

Wise women connect to what’s more important than approval, perfectionism, or surface-level harmony. To what’s more important than being right. They focus on their vision for the future, and the core values that guide their work. The rest is just fluff.

✓Acting in Community

Nothing drives perfectionism like feeling we’re in this on our own. Connect with others who share your passion and ask, what can we accomplish together? Notice the collective power, and find the aliveness that comes in that “yes, and."

✓ Being real about your insecurities

Be vocal & vulnerable about your insecurities. Because everrrrryone has them, in some form or another. When you open up, it creates a bond: “We might both be struggling, but I see you doing this, and it helps be believe I can do it, too.”

✓ Trusting the ecosystem

Zoom out and appreciate your contribution in the larger ecosystem of change. Feel into the web of all the others doing complementary work, and commit to tending to your piece with love. As Joanna Macy put it, “We can never know whether our actions will have a decisive impact. What we can know is that by supporting one another, we make this possibility more likely.”

Next time you catch yourself in a good girl mindset, ask yourself how your inner wise woman would respond instead. You might be surprised at how powerful her voice is when you start to listen!

P.S. Many of these good girl, perfectionistic characteristics are the same we see in workplaces with white supremacist culture. Huh… why do you think that might be? 🤔

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