Progress Over Perfection

Hey ladies!  Ok, I need you to be honest for a second.  Could you be guilty of allowing perfection to paralyze you from achieving your goals?  It could be that you avoided a phone call because you were scared of not saying the “right” thing?  Maybe you had a business idea, but squashed it because you told yourself that it would never work?  Or maybe you DID try to achieve something bold, but it didn’t go as planned, and that one failed attempt to stole your desire to give it another try.

As I watched my 9-yr old daughter play soccer this morning, I was fascinated to see her team’s relentless pursuit of their (physical) goals.  No matter how many times they missed a goal, lost control and went out of bounds, or were given a slight correction by the coach, they had smiles on their faces and kept giving it 100%. They played with a bold and brave desire to do their best that was absolutely infectious!

REWARD EFFORT NOT ACHIEVEMENT

I attribute a lot of their brave demeanor to her coach.  I have always admired his style, which is to reward every try, rather than shame any failure.  It sounds a bit soft, but don’t think that he sacrifices top performance because of this style.  In fact, he coaches some of the most elite teams in the area with this method.  In essence, what he has perfected, is a lesson of which all of us need reminding.  And that is, that no matter how old we are we should keep our focus on progress, not perfection.

I recently attended a retreat with other successful businesswomen colleagues where the need for this lesson was reinforced. The retreat was an invitation-only event for those who had achieved new titles and promotions, so I was surrounded by an impressive group of proven leaders.  Our first agenda item during training was to connect with each person’s motivation for starting their business; or our “why” as it is labeled by author, Simon Sinek.  As we went around the room and each woman spoke, there were revelations about childhood, marriage, wanting to regain an identity, achieve a sense of security, etc.  It was a powerful session and the emotional connection through this exercise was absolutely unbelievable.  But the one thing that was surprisingly noticeable in many stories, was an overall unspoken feeling of guarded optimism by each woman that she truly believed she had what it took to achieve her big goals.  It wasn’t that anyone lacked belief in our company, the product we represent or the system we use.  Unfortunately, it was that they still had a shadow of doubt in themselves.  I found this realization completely ironic, because by anyone else’s measure these women had already proven themselves successful.  So why are we as women so hard on ourselves?

TEACH BRAVERY…NOT PERFECTION

The reason for each person’s ounce of self-doubt varied that day, but according to a 2016 TED talk, “Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection” by Reshna Saujani (founder of Girls Who Code) the overall problem stems from the way we raise our girls.  Think about it.  As kids, boys are encouraged to participate in daredevil acts like jumping off the highest playground equipment, playing with weapons, and being bold and aggressive at sports.  Yet, as girls we hear things like “act like a lady,” “be nice” or “don’t be too bossy.” And this kind of subtle societal disparity creates women who will strive, but only to the degree they can achieve perfection.  And if she falls short or attracts any criticism, she starts second guessing her abilities.  Over a lifetime, this breeds the exact feeling I was surrounded by at the retreat.  Unlike men who interpret failure as an opportunity to ask, “What went wrong?” we as women, blame ourselves for an imperfect outcome, and ask, “What is wrong with me?”

I’m not here to say that I’m not guilty.  In fact, I may very well be one of the worst offenders.  I was a straight A student, my friends will tell you that I am obsessed with keeping our house picked up and “presentable,” and I probably will have revised this article at least 5 times before you see it.  Beyond that, where I really notice my insecurity come into play is when I return to the male-dominated military world.  I only have AF Reserve duty in the Pentagon twice a year, but each session brings out an irrational questioning of my abilities.  In my business life, I confidently coach and lead a team of over 7,000 women.  But the second I walk through the Pentagon doors, it can easily seem like none of that success matters and it’s easy to question what I have to offer.  See how this quest for perfection works?  Thankfully, I have had to talk myself through this scenario for almost 17 years and I’ve gotten better at standing my mental ground.

CREATE THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT

All that said, I think it’s important we truly begin to create an environment where we place more value on progress than perfection in our next generation.  I returned home from the retreat with an intense desire to create an environment where my daughter believes:

1)  That her ideas will always be as good as anyone else’s

2)  That she can try and fail, because failure is a natural stepping stone to success

3)  In herself and knows that that belief can’t be stolen by any single person’s words, by any tough situation, or by society’s norms

4)  That progress is worth more than perfection

So, for the sake of the young girls in your life, I challenge you to think about the way you see the world.  Is it perfection or bust?  Or are there small changes you can make to help encourage your girls to make bold, carefree attempts at going outside their comfort zone and tackling big things…regardless of the outcome?  As Reshna Suajani so eloquently stated, “when we teach girls to be imperfect, and we help them leverage it, we will build a movement of young women who are brave and who will build a better world for themselves and for each and every one of us.”

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