Courtney E. Martin, author of the book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women nailed it when she said “We are a generation of women who were told we could do anything and instead heard that we had to be everything.” While I haven’t read her book, this quote has stuck with me ever since I first heard it.
With a working mom who excelled at owning her own Insurance business, I grew up never questioning my ability to succeed in the world — I was constantly told I could be whatever I wanted to be and do it well. A dolphin trainer. A professional athlete. A business woman. I’m grateful for that gift my mother gave me, among many others. But I also, not audibly, but subtly from our culture heard that I had to be everything. A scholar athlete. Thin and model-like. Funny. Captivating. Intelligent. Sexy.
I wanted to be everything. For everyone. But I failed. I came undone. Signing papers at eighteen stating that I was a danger to myself was the tipping point. I couldn’t do it all. The wild thing is I wasn’t alone. Nearly all of my close friends had their own crises – drug and alcohol abuse, abusive relationships, eating disorders, abortion. And the same goes for my friends’ friends. From my work the last twelve years with young women through Wonderfully Made, it hasn’t gotten any better. So many young women on the precipice of a breakdown.
Though somewhat of a generalization, Martin captures the crisis of our generation of young women in these words:
“We are the girls with anxiety disorders, filled appointment books, five-year plans. We take ourselves very, very seriously. We are the peacemakers, the do-gooders, the givers, the savers. We are on time, overly prepared, well read, and witty, intellectually curious, always moving… We pride ourselves on getting as little sleep as possible and thrive on self-deprivation. We drink coffee, a lot of it. We are on birth control, Prozac, and multivitamins… We are relentless, judgmental with ourselves, and forgiving to others. We never want to be as passive-aggressive as our mothers, never want to marry men as uninspired as our fathers… We are the daughters of the feminists who said, “You can be anything,” and we heard, “You have to be everything.”
My hope is that our generation of women will realize how very enough we are. That they will grasp a true sense of their value and worth. For me, I now find my worthiness is hidden in Christ alone. I still have my struggles. I still fight perfectionism and I am still tempted to be everything, but the difference is I know that I don’t have to be.
Have you ever felt like you have to be everything? How has the pursuit of perfection impacted your life? I’d love to hear!