You can win the battle with perfection


Hi! Alicia here.

It is so tempting, when you struggle, to think that a certain problem will go away

…when you have more experience

Or …when you have a more senior role

Or …when you have more scope or authority.

In my experience, that is rarely the case.

I stopped believing a female CFO in a 360 interview I conducted because she apologized so much. She didn’t believe it herself.

Last week, a female client on the cusp of a C-suite position was still pushing for perfection. She wanted to go to her boss for guidance again before finalizing a strategic suggestion. This was not her 1st, or 2nd, or 3rd time going back for guidance. I had lost count.

I interrupted her line of thinking.

“What would your next action be if you weren’t striving for perfection?”

Women struggle with perfection. That is why Reshma Saujani’s TED talk went viral years ago.

“We immediately see in our program our girls' fear of not getting it right, of not being perfect. Every Girls Who Code teacher tells me the same story. During the first week, when the girls are learning how to code, a student will call her over and she'll say, "I don't know what code to write." The teacher will look at her screen, and she'll see a blank text editor. If she didn't know any better, she'd think that her student spent the past 20 minutes just staring at the screen. But if she presses undo a few times, she'll see that her student wrote code and then deleted it. She tried, she came close, but she didn't get it exactly right. Instead of showing the progress that she made, she'd rather show nothing at all. Perfection or bust.”

We have to grow up from how we were socialized if we want to have an impact.

I am not suggesting that you stop asking for guidance. That would be irresponsible. You will need guidance to grow, learn, and stretch.

I am, however, suggesting that you show your work. That you don’t go back for more guidance with the same blank screen. That instead you show your work. And you do this much earlier. Even when you don’t have all the information. That you allow the appropriate people to see your first draft. That you invite them to edit your work.

There is a risk in going for more guidance with a blank screen. It becomes almost impossible to move your work forward. You end up struggling to connect someone else’s guidance to the work you have in front of you. And your work - your first draft - is your brilliance. Your showing your first draft becomes a request to help you have your brilliance shine. It becomes your idea amplified and strengthened in partnership with someone else. AND you will walk away with a bit more confidence that your ideas can lead to something meaningful.

And what happens if they see that you were moving in the wrong direction? Thinking about something all wrong? That you hadn’t considered the most important input?

You will learn something much bigger. A lot faster.

But more often than not, especially as you get more senior in your career, no one has all the information. There is no perfect bullseye that you are being set up to find and hit. The bullseye is not created. That is your mission. To create it. And the real bullseye for the organization may not be obvious until after your first draft. Your idea may be the catalyst for a needed change in conversation or perspective. That doesn’t make your work wrong. It makes it critical to forward movement.

So, when is the right time to show your work:

  • You have a first draft that you let rest and revisited at least once

  • You find yourself asking for guidance more than twice without showing your work.

  • You have sought out information and are coming up blank. Repeatedly.

  • If your question is best answered with a yes or no, invest a bit in one option and get guidance

  • When your question is something like do you want to see this or that. Again, incorporate one option and invite in feedback

  • You are stuck. And have gone back to it a couple of times

Over time, you will build a muscle to know when the time is right for you, based on your own creative flow. Start iterating so you can build that muscle faster.

Reflection: What would your next action be if you weren’t striving for perfection?

Shine On,

Alicia & Gina

Alicia Jabbar