Practice Courage Not Perfection

As we finish March and our Women’s History Month, otherwise referred to as Four Weeks of Fearless Feminine, this subject of courage vs. perfection is, I believe, particularly appropriate. Perfection is something that we as humans, and most particularly as women, need to let go of.

There is significant data which supports the practice of perfection by women. A Hewlett Packard internal study notes that men will apply for the next role up when they believe they have 60% of the qualifying skills. Women, however, believe they must have 100%.

The graph below was taken from the Harvard Business Review article (, collecting the responses from women and men as to why they did not apply for a next role.

Behaviorally, this is something we need to learn and mimic from our male counterparts.  Perfection does not exist. Yet, we continue the search. That quest can keep us from living into our own fullest potential.

On a personal note, I have practiced seeking perfection not only in my professional life, but also in my personal life. Case in point … you know how at Christmastime, we receive long dissertations from friends and family, highlighting the greatness of their children, vacations, weight loss during the past year? Ugh. I would get ridiculously envious reading these letters. You’d tell me that your kids were all on traveling sports teams, that they were straight “A” students, and you’ve lost 40 lbs. this year. Seriously, you were killing me. Then one day, I decided we too would have the perfect Christmas Card and letter. I called my Mom who lived states away and told her that I needed her to sew matching dresses for Lizzy (my daughter) and me. The boys would need matching vests.  I went on to tell her that we were going to have the perfect Christmas Card that year. I explained to Mom that I was sick of being on the receiving end of the letters. This year, the O’Brien’s would be the perfect family with the perfect Christmas Card!

Mom laughed. She tried to remind me that in life, there is no perfect! However, I wasn’t listening. I was too busy imagining our perfect card.

Mom made and sent the clothes for the kids. On a Sunday afternoon, in the first week of December, we lined the kids up outside.  Dan and I stood on each end, corralling them. I had asked a friend to come to be our official photographer. She obliged. In those days, we didn’t have digital capability. Everything was taken on a camera and then printed. My friend took 97 pictures. No, you read that number right. 97. I’m not even kidding. Not one of the photos was perfect. However, every picture was ridiculously funny. In my quest for perfection, I learned that being perfect really doesn’t matter and that there can be significant magic in imperfection.

As we end this month of the fearless feminine, let go of the practice of perfection. Instead, practice courage. Say “yes” to that which feels just outside your comfort zone. If it’s a next professional opportunity, go for it. Don’t worry if you don’t have 100%. You’ll have what you need! You can figure out the rest once you’re in the job!

I want to leave you with this writing by Marianne Williamson. Print it for yourself. Keep it where you can read it every day.

Practice courage, not perfection … and keep lookin’ up!