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3 ways to be perfectly imperfect

Tuesday, April 22, 2014  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Angela M. Joyner, Ph.D.

We are often pulled in many directions. Our calendars are bursting at the seams with multiple priorities and scheduling conflicts. We yearn for balance in our professional and personal lives.

According to Michele Kremen Bolton, the author of The Third Shift – Managing Hard Choices in Our Careers, Home and Lives as Women, most of us work three shifts each day. Our first shift is spent at the organizations where we drive results and demonstrate our leadership abilities. Then, we come home, where we are mothers, wives, daughters, friends, aunts and other important roles. While our relational roles are not necessarily bound by time, they require a great deal of emotional and physical investment. Which brings me to the third and sometimes most stressful shift — the third shift. This shift is where we spend our time analyzing, criticizing, worrying and feeling guilty about where we are falling short on the other two shifts. The feelings evoked by the third shift can wreak havoc on our self-esteem, stifle our confidence and leave us feeling unfulfilled.

Related: "Listen up — or pay the career penalty”

When we become fixated on what we are not doing well, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to celebrate what we are actually accomplishing. As leaders, we have to give ourselves permission to miss the mark and not get caught in the trap of perfection.

Here are three tips that helped me:

  • Put things into perspective. Everything in our lives cannot be an emergency or crisis. Give priority to things that give you the most satisfaction and best align with your values. When you recognize that your life is dynamic and that priorities can shift, you give yourself the gift of choice. You can choose what matters today and accept the fact that your priorities may change tomorrow.
  • Re-define the word "success.” It can be emotionally and physically draining to aim for perfection in every aspect of your life. Perfection is a tough hurdle to achieve and unfortunately our society does not promote the value of imperfection. We spend inordinate amounts of time, money and mental energy trying to live up to standards that are impossible, and quite frankly, unnecessary. When I started on my professional journey, my goal was to learn, make a positive impact to my organization and leave a professional legacy. I did not sign up to work 100 hours, miss family gatherings or run my health into the ground. If I had followed the career examples of people who were deemed "successful,” I would have most likely have been burned out a decade ago. My definition of success today still aligns with what I value most: learning, giving back and family. Give yourself permission to evolve how you define success and ensure it acknowledges what you need right now.
  • Set boundaries. In a rapidly paced and technology-enabled world, we are expected to be "on” every minute of the day. I had to learn to say "no” to many requests so that I could say "yes” to activities that mattered most to me. I had to let go of the guilt I felt when I declined an invitation. It was not serving me well and was negatively impacting how I was showing up to the things I desperately wanted to do. Setting boundaries has been one of the hardest things for me to do throughout my career. I didn’t want to disappoint others, but I also knew that I could not be all things to all people all of the time. It was just as important to stand up for my needs so that I could be effective as a leader and in my other roles.

I am not saying that we should lower our standards or give less than our best effort. I am suggesting that, perhaps, we should redefine "success” and give ourselves some margin for imperfection. I believe when we do, we get more peace of mind in return.

Recognized by Black Health Magazine as one the "25 Most Influential African American in Healthcare, Pharmaceuticals and Health Food Industries,” Angela Joyner is passionate about helping women develop a professional brand that helps them stand out at work. She is vice president and general manager of the refrigerated portfolio at ConAgra Foods Inc. and founder of The Wonder Loft LLC. Her career has included leadership positions at Hallmark Cards Inc., Mattel Inc. and Sara Lee Knit Products. Her doctoral research, The Theodora Effect, focuses on character strengths and high performance in executive women.

Views expressed in signed blogs and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and sponsors.

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