Recovering Perfectionists Discuss Importance of Striving for Progress, Not Perfection During Women of Power Summit

After an energizing Saturday morning breakfast, women scrambled into bright-and-early sessions where some came to discuss a personal flaw we’ve all fallen guilty of head-on—perfectionism.

Hosted by Lilly, BLACK ENTERPRISE’s Women of Power session, “Progress, Not Perfection,” brought together a panel of recovering perfectionists from challenging women to let go of the idea that we must be perfect and instead take risks and embrace failure.

“I never took a break to rest.”

“…I was telling myself to rest is a waste.”

“The key thing that I needed to do was make sure I prioritized.”

Those words sounded like the professionals needed to come to the rescue quickly. But wait, those were the words of the professionals, the women in major positions at their companies, and the attendees’ ears were perked up to receive their advice.

Fortunately, those beginning words were not the end of their stories.

Holding back tears, Dr. Yasmene Mumby, founder & principal at The Ringgold, shared an emotional story about how striving for perfection took a toll on her health, so much so, her body refused to continue physically.

Progress Not Perfection panel Women of Power Summit in Vegas (Images Black Enterprise)

“A good portion of my early career, I had the assumption, deep assumption, that to rest was a waste of time,” Mumby shared, emphasizing the sacrifice her ancestors made for her to be where she is.

“I was telling myself, to rest is a waste. That’s not true. I also thought I had to earn my way to take a break. That’s not true either,” she said.

Working seven days a week, co-chairing a citywide coalition, all while attending night classes for law school, Mumby’s workload came to a point where, at 27 years old, she ended up losing eyesight in her left eye. A blood clot in the vein between her eye and brain that caused her to go blind in her eye for a year presented doctors with a case they had never seen before in someone her age. At the same time, Mumby shared she was growing a fibroid tumor ten times the size of her uterus. When she thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. She laughed to release some tension before revealing she found a lump in her breast during her recovery.

“People who understood me understood the sacrifices that I could no longer make to show up perfected for other people,” Mumby said. “I had to choose life.”

Mumby supports Black women choosing themselves over the trauma and pain that shows up in the body from life’s stressors.

“I never took a break to rest,” were the words of Dr. Lauren Young, chief diversity and inclusion officer at Travelers, who has never received anything lower than an A in her studies as she got candid about how detrimental perfectionism was to her health.

Progress Not Perfection panel Women of Power Summit in Vegas (Images Black Enterprise)

Never not smiling, Young masked the pressure of representing her family and culture, making sure she always looked and spoke a certain way and ensuring she never had an “off day.”

Staying busy is what fed her, and resting wasn’t an option in order to care for her loved ones and handle her professional responsibilities.

“I’m taking on all of this stuff that no one has asked me to do because I’m told this is the expectation of a Black woman,” Young shared, adding that she started experiencing a head rush every time she stood up in meetings, something that progressed and got so bad she couldn’t stand up to walk without holding a wall. 

“I said…I’m going to do something for myself. I’m going to start my own business and dictate how I’m going to spend my time and energy,” she said after doctors advised she should take a break.

Taking severance and quitting her MBA program, Young said the dizziness disappeared immediately after she lightened her load.

Kelly Copes-Anderson, global head of Diversity Equity & Inclusion at Lilly, admitted to being a recovering perfectionist.

“I’m claiming it because it starts with you being clear about where you want to be and unwinding those messages that you had in your mind,” she said, adding that the key for her was prioritizing.

“Women, in general, tend to be more perfectionists than others, but Black women, have it even more so than women in general. And we have this because of the systems of bias and racism that we face. That’s a reality,” she added, acknowledging head nods of agreement from the women across the room.

Copes-Anderson explained how perfectionism is really a protective mechanism to help avoid being judged and criticized.

“I have two affirmations every morning. I am enough, and I’m meant to be here,” Copes-Anderson said.