Being Imperfectly Ourselves

I sometimes wish I was a Harvard graduate, that I was a 4.0 type student, that I could still do a mean regression analysis, that I had been a CEO of a major corporate company, and was already being called as a corporate director on boards like Nike, Nordstrom, or Amazon. But I’m not.

I am less “perfect” than all of that.

The reason I founded a consulting business? Because I got fired.

The reason I can adjust communications to a bunch of leaders? It’s cause I ran through 24 (or was it 26?) leaders during my nearly 7 year tenure at Apple. While some of those moves were promotions, I got shuffled from manager to manager cause I was “difficult” to manage.

The reason I can spot something amiss? Well, I’ll keep it brief by sharing I had some very close up experiences with Child Protective Services. My childhood was less than easy, surrounded by people who did not know how to keep a child safe. Because of it, I built up an internal detection system.

The reason I am being pursued for corporate board seats with 4 different firms? Because I had failed to build a leadership team that could allow that firm to operate without me.

On a good day, I can see the beauty of all this “imperfection”. It makes me, me. It’s not our perfectness that prepares us for what’s next, it’s our life experiences. The ups, the downs, the “learning” moments that follow the inevitable failure moments. The way in which we learn, and adapt, and become more of who we are. I am open to what is next, and that wasn’t available to me until I shut down my firm.

Like me, you probably have many friends who have lost their job, or go through a major transition in the last year. I’ve noticed the ones who moan “why me” and start to wallow in why things are not as they wish, rather than work with what they have…they are the ones who typically can’t move forward. By wanting to be perfect, they can’t be well, themselves. They resist what is in front of them. They can’t let life unfold as it needs to…


Scott Adams recently pointed out in the Wall Street Journal that it was the many failures of his career (a corporate career that didn’t succeed, etc) that lets him be the gift we all know as the Dilbert cartoonist. In his words, he says:

I succeeded as a cartoonist with negligible art talent, some basic writing skills, an ordinary sense of humor and a bit of experience in the business world. The “Dilbert” comic is a combination of all four skills. The world has plenty of better artists, smarter writers, funnier humorists and more experienced business people. The rare part is that each of those modest skills is collected in one person. That’s how value is created.”

Yes, that’s how value is created. By imperfection. By our differences. By our uniqueness.

When we let ourselves discover what life has in store for us, to listen to where our heart leads us, we become who we are meant to be. Maybe not perfect. But imperfectly ourselves.

5 Responses:

  1. Chris Mitchell. April 21, 2011 at 6:12 am  |  

    Another winner, Nilofer. So many of us tend to devalue our own self worth when we are transitioned out of the workforce. I can certainly relate. It is time to rebuild and revalue and reevaluate our lives and how we contribute to life around us. Thanks for making such a vital contribution.

  2. lionelc. April 21, 2011 at 2:35 pm  |  

    You’re right, again.But it is very difficult to shed our “be perfect” skin; as we’ve been trained to use it since birth. And as Chris said we tend to devalue ourselves when transitioned, the only good thing is we’re so down and out that the only way to go is UP!Nice post, I liked it a lot (as I did your book).

  3. Nilofer Merchant. April 21, 2011 at 4:41 pm  |  

    Chris – And it’s probably when we’re most “down” that we need to remember that somehow this specific “failure” will lead to something good. Lionel – Yes, our education and most of society’s conditioning is about fitting in, which is why I liked Scott Adam’s story, especially as we can now see how his standing “out” actually creates more value. Thanks to you both for starting the dialogue here.

  4. lrmoss. April 25, 2011 at 3:27 pm  |  

    Nilofer, I wanted to take a moment and thank you, thank you for your message!!!! Awesome reminder of what we should all keep in our core, daily. This particularly resonated with me as I just learned my position and my team’s function at Oracle have been eliminated. I always believe as one door closes, another opens…..your Being Imperfectly Ourselves gave me just the kick I needed to get on with this thinking sooner rather than later and keep it all in perspective. Best Always, Linda

  5. Nilofer Merchant. April 25, 2011 at 3:41 pm  |  

    Linda – I’m truly glad that the timing was right to hear this message. While I haven’t read it, I hear Brene Brown’s work on “imperfection” is very good. I watched her TEDx video and I’m inclined to dig deeper into her work.


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