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Are You a Perfectionistic Overfunctioner? How To Finally Stop Doing Too Much, and Find More Happiness and Peace


This month, I read a riveting post by Elizabeth Gilbert on The Best Thing You Can Do For Yourself — And All The Women Around You that had me nodding continuously, and sympathizing wholeheartedly with Elizabeth’s take on what’s going on for so many women today.

Elizabeth sums it up perfectly:

Nearly all the women I know are stressing themselves sick over the pathological fear that they simply aren’t doing enough with their lives. Which is crazy — absolutely flat-out bananas — because the women I know do a lot, and they do it well.

When I studied to become a marriage and family therapist, I learned of a phenomenon called “overfunctioning” – doing more than is necessary, more than is appropriate and more than is healthy. And I learned that when one spouse or partner overfunctions, the other one inevitably underfunctions .  It’s a dynamic we get locked into, and often never escape. That concept made me sit up at attention, because I suddenly realized it was playing out in my own life.

Then, as I began working as a career coach with hundreds of professional women each year, I observed another crippling layer to this – perfectionism.  It’s a true epidemic in our society – the desperate drive to get an A+ in everything we do, no matter how important it is in our lives. Doing too much every single day is damaging our lives at best, and killing us from stress at worst.

How do you know if you’re a perfectionist overfunctioner? Answer these 7 questions as honestly as you can:

  1. Are you driven (and exhausted, depleted and sad) trying to keep up with what you think you “should” be doing in your life and work?
  2. Do you feel lousy (and “less than”) when you compare yourself to other women, other moms, and other professionals?
  3. Do you act in your life as if everything is a top, urgent priority, whereas actually, only a few things truly are?
  4. Is your family used to your doing too much, and you feel it’s really hard now to break that cycle?
  5. Do you feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness and imperfection, and you’d rather struggle alone and try to do it all yourself?
  6. Is there rampant underfunctioning going on in your house or your job that you know you need to address but can’t find the courage?
  7. Finally, when you stop and take the time to really think about it, are you living someone else’s definition of happiness, success and well-being?

Answering these questions honestly will open your eyes to what has to change – and to the need to give yourself a break every day, and stop trying to get an A+ in everything.

I’m a recovering perfectionistic overfunctioner and I know how very hard it is to stay on this wagon and keep yourself there – of loving and embracing who you are, being OK with you what you do and what you don’t do, and living more authentically each day.

Here are 4 steps that I’ve found helpful in recovering from perfectionist overfunctioning:

This week commit to stop doing it all, and watch how that feels

Women have been chronically overfunctioning for years, ever since they emerged on the work scene and took on the overwhelming challenge of trying to balance full-time work with full-time family responsibilities.

What drives women to overfunction? I’ve seen that it’s believing that if you don’t do everything, something terrible will occur: You’ll miss out on a critical development if you’re not always there; someone else (your partner, for instance) will do it wrong; your children’s welfare will be jeopardized; you’ll be ridiculed or judged harshly; you’ll be seen as “less than” others; or, finally, if you can’t be the best at all you do, you’ll be an abject failure.

Research shows that women still assume the lion’s share of domestic responsibilities, even if they work, and even when they are the primary breadwinners. This overload is extremely difficult to thrive through. As Leslie Morgan Steiner, editor of the important and compelling book Mommy Wars, explained to me, she found balancing work and family torturous at times. She admitted candidly that she wished she hadn’t had to face the obstacles she did—namely, being forced to give up her exciting and fulfilling sixty-plus-hour-a-week job running The Washington Post Magazine and reducing her hours and salary by 50% in order to carve out the precious family time that was critical to her.

So what can women do about their overly full plates and their tendency to overfunction?

We have the personal power to change this dynamic. It boils down to prioritizing with courage and conviction what matters most to you, then building the sufficient boundaries to shift your focus away from what matters less. Shed the need to do it all perfectly, and embrace help from all those who will give it. And learn to trust that you aren’t meant to handle everything yourself, and live two or more lives within your one.  Identify where you can take action to ask and empower others—your spouse, children, colleagues, subordinates, etc.—to take on more responsibility, wherever possible and appropriate. An essential corollary to this is freeing yourself from guilt and shame about needing and wanting help, and remembering that getting help is a way of saying “yes” to what matters most.

If you find this shift in attitude and behavior challenging, it’s helpful to examine why you may believe you’re the only one who can do all that you’re doing. Get support from someone you trust and respect, to see what may be holding you hostage, keeping you chained to your need to do it all, and perfectly.

This type of honest self-exploration often leads to discovering past traumas and subconscious beliefs that no longer serve you. Perhaps your childhood was insecure, and your parents weren’t reliable or there for you, leaving you feeling frightened and alone. Maybe your authority figures or teachers demanded perfection, withholding acceptance or love unless you showed them evidence of your perfection. Or perhaps your self-esteem was beaten down so that being in control or perfect was the only way you knew how to survive.

Address what you fear most

While fear sometimes motivates us to make positive change, it can also keep us stuck. In my past, I had deep fears that bad things would happen if I didn’t control everything at home, and those fears kept me angry, resentful and worn out.

We all have fears. They’re a necessary and helpful component of human existence. But the more locked away your fears are from our conscious thought, the more they drive you to behave in unsatisfying, self-destructive, and limiting ways—without your awareness or consent.

If you’re finding it impossible to enjoy your life and figure out your top life priorities (let alone honor them), I’d take a look at your deepest fears. How are they driving and limiting you, and wearing you out?

The following are questions and topics that regularly elicit fear, anxiety, or pain for many people:

From the Past:

• Relationships that broke your heart

• “Failure” to succeed or perform

• Being criticized, rejected, or ridiculed

• Being told you were “not enough”

• Being negatively compared with others

• Being abused and mistreated

• Being envied or despised for your successes

• Bringing about harm or suffering to others

• Being alone and frightened

In the Present:

• Dealing with current responsibilities—can I do it?

• Keeping your family safe and secure in today’s world

• Feeling like you don’t matter

• Dealing with crushing financial worries

• Coping with disease and illnesses

• Feeling numb, depressed, and cut off

 • Keeping your flaws a secret

• Feeling or acting out of control

In the Future:

• Will I find and keep love? Am I lovable?

• Will I handle my challenges without blowing it?

• Do I have what it takes?

• Can I take care of myself and my family?

• Will my children be secure and successful?

• Will I be safe and secure?

• Will I live a long and healthy life?

• Will I be destitute and homeless?

• Will I be alone?

• Will I survive this?

• Will the world survive this?

What do you fear most? Death, rejection, success, pain, exposure, vulnerability, sadness, separation? Bring this fear into your awareness and talk to it. Get to know it and live with it.  Confront what frightens you the most, and embrace it as a friend. Only when we face our fears, with open hearts and minds, and the willingness to feel our vulnerability, can we deal with them more effectively.

Get help from others

Receiving help from other people in your life is essential. We can’t do what we dream of and live happy, rewarding lives without support.  If managing everything on your plate is overwhelming, reach out and ask for help. I love the concept I learned in my therapy training: “Never do for others what they can do for themselves.” When we overdo for others, we rob them—our children, spouses, or colleagues, friends, and employees—of precious opportunities to directly experience their own competence and power. To create new balance and wholeness in your life and work, ask for (insist on) the help you need and deserve.

Make joy and fulfillment the barometer

If how you felt every moment of every single day was your barometer for “success,” how would you be doing? Is all this crazy running around, exhausting yourself and driving yourself to distraction, bringing any peace, joy, or fulfillment at all?  Can you even be present in the lives of your children or loved ones if you’re driven and obsessed? The obvious answer is “No.”  If experiencing the world in a fully present, alert, and alive way, and feeling joy using your abundant natural talents could become your measure for a life well lived, what would you need to do differently?  This month, make joy, fulfillment and well-being your measure of success, and observe how you operate differently in doing so.

And let yourself of the hook, once and for all.

To build a happier, more fulfilling life and career, take my Amazing Career Project online course and visit and Best Work/Best Life.

Why Investing In Yourself Is Critical and Why So Many Women Don’t

As a women’s career coach and consultant, I deliver scores of training series, teleclasses and career coaching programs each year helping women build more success and reward in their careers. In the seven years I’ve offered these types of programs, I’ve been truly shocked at the number of women (hundreds upon hundreds) who indicate they want to join a program (whether it’s $10, $100, or $1,000), but never pull the trigger.  I can tell you categorically that this is different behavior from what I see in the men who come to me for help. And this reluctance relates to all forms of development –  classes, certification, joining industry associations, attending networking functions, asking for funding, getting help with business plans, and much more.

Typically, men hear me speak, or read my website and blog, talk to me, and then say “Yes” very quickly to working together. No hemming and hawing, no “Let me have a few days to think about this,” and certainly not “I have to check in with my spouse about the investment.” Ever.  Even when the woman is the primary breadwinner, she often doesn’t feel she has the power or authority to say yes to investing in herself without checking with her husband first. I believe that a part of this behavior is a lack of confidence women experience in investing in their own growth.

There’s been a great deal of research and writing about this confidence gap in women, and the root causes, and I have my own theories and beliefs about what contributes to it today (including cultural training, rigid gender roles, role modeling, etc.). But as a career coach who spent years as a therapist and a corporate director focused on advancing women, I’m less interested in the causes and much more interested in the solutions.  I’ve come to see that this is not a myth – women often do, in fact, let their doubts and insecurities about themselves stop them, whereas men tend to push forward despite their doubts. For example, in Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, she references an internal report at Hewlett-Packard that revealed that women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed; men apply if they think they meet 60 percent of the requirements. I share this not to be unsupportive to women, but to help us all gain awareness of what’s holding us back to achieve what we long for.  After all, greater awareness equals greater choice.

Do a check-in and see if you’re suffering from this condition I call “intractable resistance to growth.” Here are what I’ve found to be top five reasons why women won’t invest in their own growth when they should, and why it hurts them. Do these sounds familiar?

They need to check with someone else.

When it comes to personal and professional development (or anything in life for that matter), you need to make yourself the highest authority of your life, not your spouse, your sister, your boss, your partner.  You need to know beyond a shadow of a doubt what you need, want and what you deserve, and go out and get it.  It’s not up to your spouse or anyone else to tell you if you should make this investment – it’s up to you. (I know you’ll say that you and your husband need to agree on your budgeting, etc. To that, I say you need to know what’s necessary, and find a way to get it.)

They’re not sure this is the “right” time.

Here’s a harsh reality: we’re all over –the-top busy and over-committed, and it’s never going to feel like the “right time” to invest in yourself.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t the best time.  You’ll always be able to make excuse after excuse as to why you don’t have time to do something critical that will help you. But people who create great success, happiness and reward in their lives carve out the necessary time and money.  They don’t get lost in all the reasons why later would be better.

They’re not clear about the return on investment.

Women worry, “Will I get enough out of this?” and “Will this be a mistake?” Ensuring that your investment offers a healthy return is a choice – it’s based on your actions and decisions, not some random act or chance occurrence. It requires thorough research and due diligence to know if an investment will pay off, but more than that, it requires confidence and commitment that you’ll make sure the money you spend on yourself will be well worth it in the long run.

CLICK HERE to read the complete article on the top 5 reasons women resist investing in themselves.

Do you resist investing in your own growth?  Do you chronically put yourself last?  What can you do to push forward and step up to say “YES!” to supporting your own development, and contributing to the world in bigger ways.  I’d love your thoughts.

Change Your Career or Change Your Attitude?

Kathy's Video Blog "Work You Love"

Hello and welcome to my new weekly video blog Work You Love!

This vlog is dedicated to addressing one key career issue or question from my readers each week, all around how to build successful, rewarding and satisfying careers you love.

Below is Episode 1 on “Should I Change My Career or My Attitude?” touching on the question of how to determine if what’s going on your career warrants significant change or just an adjustment in your mindset and attitude.



I hope that’s useful! Please share your candid feedback and input below – I’d love to hear from you and would be grateful for your thoughts.

If YOU have a burning question pertaining to your career, job or professional life, please share it with me.  No question is too big or too small.  Ask away, because your query represents that of thousands of other professionals around the world.  Your candid exploration and sharing helps others.

CLICK HERE to submit your question, and I’ll do my best to address it in the weeks to come.

Here’s to your breakthrough to amazing career success, happiness and reward.



The 7 Reasons Women Don’t Talk About Success

Français : L'actrice américaine Shirley MacLai...

Image via Wikipedia

As a career and executive coach dedicated to the advancement of women, it’s not often these days that I’m surprised by women’s behavior. I know women – especially midlife ones – quite well, or so I thought.    But I’ve been rocked recently by a finding that’s emerging from my research on Women Succeeding AbundantlyThis study explores the stories of working women across the country, ages 25 to 75 who are experiencing abundant success on their own terms as they define it, and are thriving and living joyfully.

I’m learning as the study progresses that women are much more comfortable talking about how things are not what they want in their lives, than they are sharing about their successes. They just very reluctant to come forward and admit, “Hey, I’m really successful, and I’m proud of that!”

A friend of mine recently shared with me that when Shirley MacLaine won her Oscar in 1984 for her role in “Terms of Endearment,” she was certainly grateful in her acceptance speech, but also declared, “Thanks, I deserve this!” 

Nuggets of Shirley’s speech…

“I don’t believe there are such things as accidents.  I think that we all manifest what we want and what we need.  I don’t think there’s a difference really between what you feel you have to do in your heart, and success – they’re inseparable…Films and life are like clay waiting for us to mold it, and when you trust your own insides and that becomes achievement, it’s a kind of principle it seems to me is at work with everyone…God bless that potential that we all have for making anything possible if we think we deserve it.  I deserve this.  Thank you!”

From that sentiment of her feeling of deservedness, there was some backlash – in other words, people thought “How dare she say she deserves to win!”

Wow…I guess we had better not even whisper that we’ve earned our great success and that it’s well-deserved.  It’s just not yet acceptable yet for women to do so.  And this is not something we’ve “made up” in our minds.  Unfortunately, national research shows that success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.  In other words – women who are successful aren’t liked as well as successful men.

CLICK HERE to read my full Huffington Post article on why women don’t talk about their success. 

Are you reluctant to share your successes openly?  If so, what holds you back the most?

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10 Key Ways That Being More Positive Enhances Your Career and Your Life

As a trained marriage and family therapist and career coach, I’ve researched for over eight years what makes some people highly successful interpersonally and in business, and others doomed to fail.

I’ve observed this: Being more positive in your behaviors and language makes room for far greater success, satisfaction and reward in your life (this goes for your marriage and family life too). 

In Marriage as In Life and Work

During my therapy training, I read a fascinating book called The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.  In it, the author, leading relationship expert Dr. John Gottman, explains that there are particular types of negative interactions that, if allowed to run rampant, are so lethal to a relationship that he calls them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  These four horsemen “clip-clop into the heart of a marriage in the following order : criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.”

I’ve seen these exact same harbingers of professional disaster in the workplace as well. Allowed to run unfettered, these Four Horsemen will certainly clip-clop into the heart of your career and professional life with a deadly thud.

Dr. Gottman discovered a formula he believes is provable and reliable – that to make your marriage successful, you must ensure that there are five times more positive, loving interactions than negative, painful interactions between you and your spouse. If you don’t adhere to this formula, serious unhappiness ensues.  And if you dip toward the 1:1 ratio consistently, he says you’re likely to end in divorce.  He can watch a couple discuss a problem or conflict for only a few minutes, and predict with eerie accuracy if they’ll eventually end in divorce.

Interestingly, I’ve seen the relevance of this positive-to-negative interaction formula in people’s careers and professional endeavors as well.  Those who are consistently more negative than positive in their communications and interactions suffer from an untimely demise of their career potential.

Why is Negativity So Destructive? 

Negativity limits, constrains and tears down.  Negativity also tends to escalate, and as it does, it strips away future opportunities for success, self-esteem, trust, confidence, and growth.

What Does Positivity Do Instead?

Being positive, on the other hand, has the opposite effect – it builds, repairs, and protects.  Using positive language and behaviors builds up support structures and creates new roads to solutions and success.  It paves the way for a deeper level of human connection, compassion, and creativity.

 In fact, I’ve found that concentrating your focus on being more positive as you engage in your professional endeavors achieves the following 10 powerful outcomes:

Being more positive:

1)      Helps you engage with others more effectively and gain support more easily for your ideas and initiatives

2)      Develops you as a role model and someone to “watch,” admire and learn from

3)      Gives you greater positive impact and influence on your culture, your environment and your colleagues (positive language and emotion are magnets)

4)      Boosts your “immunity” to negative outside occurrences  – you become more resilient and bounce back quicker

5)      Inspires others around you to find the courage to seek — and move toward — the positive

6)      Strengthens your ability to advocate effectively for yourself and others,  which in turn attracts more opportunity for all involved

7)      Paves the way for more collaborative success rather than crushing competition

8)      Builds your reputation as someone worthy of trust and support

9)      Helps you see possibility where others see only hopelessness

10)   Brings to light your achievements and accomplishments rather than highlighting your failures

In the end, positivity paves the way for growth, and growth breeds success. 

You might be thinking, “Sure, I know being positive is important, but I can’t seem to shift myself out of my negative thinking, especially with all this bad news around us today.” 

If this sounds like you, I’d ask you to think again.  We CAN change and modify – it’s called evolving.  We ARE able to shift ourselves away from negative, destructive and damaging negative patterns to more positive ones – in our relationships and in our work.  I know, because I’ve worked extremely hard to create these shifts in myself and in my career, and have seen countless others do the same, to great success. 

If you will make the commitment today to engage in more positive behaviors and thoughts in your life and work, I know you won’t regret it.

Your challenge:  This week, take a very close look at your communications and interactions at work.   What is the ratio of your positive communications to negative ones?  If the ratio is at least 5 (positive) to 1 (negative), kudos to you!  If not, there’s some important work to be done.

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