Confronting The P Word: One Woman’s Success Overcoming Perfectionism

Growing up in a less-than-perfect world was a disappointment for one young lady. She always wanted things to be exactly right, as in fair, just, balanced, kindly, esteemed, and whenever possible, full of beauty. But never….not once….had she observed that divine singularity that we often refer to as perfection. It wasn’t until well into her adulthood that one special businesswoman and author inspired this young lady to free herself from her prison cell of a mindset, with one inspiring, typewritten sentence: “Done is better than perfect”.

That author is Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and that young lady was me.

The Struggle Wasn’t Over

Sheryl’s permission to live without the expectation of perfection was liberating, but I still couldn’t feel a sense of complete freedom. I’d repeat her phrase over and over in my mind to certify its meaning, with the objective of ultimately finding that freedom. But in my bones, I knew that I could do a better job with every aspect of my career, whether it be composing a blog article like this one, or crafting a proposal, or even delivering a public presentation. I continued for some time to stay wrapped up in that perfectionist tendency and it ruled over my life like a ruthless dictator.

Beginning to navigate the current chapter in my career as a DRIVEN Professional, I reframed my outlook once again. In the name of walking the talk without setting myself up for disappointment, my favorite mantra had become “There’s no such thing as perfect”. The reflexive chant of “It’s not perfect” had morphed into “It’s good enough”, but I quickly discovered that it left me hanging. Such a weak attempt at reinvention was like replacing rich, decadent homemade ice cream with a frozen yogurt bar. Surely, I was not satisfied.

The Wisdom Of A Real Friend

Just when I had given up hope and convinced myself that I was the only fool in the world still struggling with the perfection paradox, I received a note from a wise friend who also struggles with the challenges that many modern women face. Turns out, one of her challenges was also related to the P word. She wrote:

“Just to touch on your comment about perfection being a myth…I was a language major in college. I was terrible at grammar all my life, but I relearned a lot of the rules in English by studying their counterparts in Spanish and French. In all three (and most) languages we have the Perfect Tense and Imperfect tense that refer to the past. The former would be “I walked to the store”, the latter would be “I was walking to the store”. The Latin root of the word “perfect” is “finished”, “completed”. That’s all, nothing more. It’s something we’ve decided over the years to apply to other things like physical beauty, a lifestyle, etc, but all it really means is it’s completed. So, therefore, we’re only perfect when we die. Not exactly something to strive for, is it?!”

Wow! Talk about a paradigm shift from attaining the superlative to simply “being done”. I never imagined that the word “perfect”, which is an unattainable concept like traveling at the speed of light, actually means “finished”. HA! All of my work has been, and will be, perfect from now on.

Look To The LanguageIMG_6592

With the numerous challenges we face in career and in life, it’s encouraging to know that a brand new perspective always lurks in a hidden corner. A clever and effective way to uncover the solution to your challenge is to consider language. When all of your efforts only serve to loop you right back to your initial challenge, research the true linguistic definition of the words you’ve been using to describe that challenge. You might be delighted to learn that you haven’t a challenge in the first place!