Are You Chasing Perfection?

The holidays are a wonderful time for movie marathons in our family. We mix in the old and the new, and ‘Elf’ is always on the playbill. This Christmas, we watched Soul, the latest movie from Pixar. Soul is about Joe, a black music schoolteacher who suffers a tragic accident the same day he gets the biggest break of his life, a chance to perform with a jazz band. As a soul traveling to the Great Beyond, he is assigned to mentor 22, an unborn soul, to prepare her for life on earth. Jamie Foxx plays Joe Gardner and Tina Fey is the voice behind Number 22.   

Soul has some great lessons about purpose, finding your spark and living life to the fullest every day. We enjoyed it thoroughly. Afterwards, my daughter Lauren was reading the reviews. Most were balanced but there was one that stood out for its overwhelmingly negative critique. Lauren and I went back and forth discussing this review, which we found surprising.

Ultimately, she said something that gave me pause, “If we look long and hard enough at something, we will always find something wrong with it. We shouldn’t be naïve but sometimes we can leave things as they are.”

No doubt this statement can be applied to many scenarios. But at that moment it spoke directly at the perfectionist in me, which my friends and family know all too well.

An example – I once told a close friend about a particular area of my life that was going well. I wanted her to help me deconstruct it and figure out why it was going well and how I could improve it. She wasn’t playing my game that day.

Her precise words were, “Can you just accept that something that is good and enjoy it without the need to strive to make it better. Just appreciate it and enjoy it today. Don’t layer on any pressure.” Maybe she feared that if I scrutinised it too closely, I would think it wasn’t going that well after all.

Perhaps the genesis of this need emerged in high school. We had both attended a competitive, all-girls Catholic high school where the motto was Ad Astra per Aspera – through difficulties to excellence. And we certainly drove for excellence, almost obsessively. This has its benefits in the workplace – hello bigger bonus! But my high school bestie agreed that turning it into a quest for perfection was completely to our detriment, especially in our personal lives.  

There are many articles about the dangers of perfectionism in the corporate environment. It stalls performance, hinders productivity and speed, and negatively impacts relationships. On a personal level it causes endless turmoil and feeds a voracious and always hungry inner critic. You might cover it up by saying you are ‘striving for excellence’, ‘desiring the best for everyone’ or just ‘casting a critical eye’. All of which are good and necessary but it’s easy to veer off into less fruitful behaviours.

I now embrace the principle: don’t let perfect become the enemy of the good. And I had to keep this in mind in creating this website and blog. I hesitated to launch it because it wasn’t professionally built. I worked at it, but many things still weren’t ‘perfect’. Guess what? They are still not perfect, but I’ve launched it anyway!

Tell me, are you always on a quest for perfection? How is that working for you? And how has it impacted your relationships?

Thanks for stopping by. Share your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear from you. And remember to hit ‘subscribe’, I post new content each week.

© Arlene Amitirigala 2021. All Rights Reserved.

“I Don’t Know How To Not Invite Them”

Party in progress. Photo credit Arlene Amitirigala. All rights reserved.

This is part of the series Lessons from the Backseat…I was getting impatient with my daughter, Lauren. We were a month away from her 9th birthday and I had made a simple request – pick a maximum of seven friends to invite to your party, but it seemed a herculean task.

“What do you mean Mommy?”

“Just pick seven girls. No more than seven.”

“And what about the others? What about everyone else?”

“Well, you just won’t invite them.”

“But I don’t know how to do that Mommy. I don’t know how to not invite them.”

I glanced at Lauren in the rearview mirror. Tears were rolling down her cheeks.

Each year she had invited a host of kids to her birthday party. This year, I had imagined a lovely little spa party for a maximum of eight girls because the expense and the space limitations would make it impractical to have any more than that. So, here I was, forcing her to choose, to cull the list, to decide who could make the cut.

Lauren’s struggle got me thinking on a wider plane. What if we design with the purpose of including as many as possible instead of creating something with the deliberate intention to exclude … What would be different? How would our approach change? What possibilities would we open for ourselves and for others?

I recall a story that a colleague from South Africa shared with me last year. In her village, when a couple was getting married, they did not issue wedding invitations. By virtue of deciding whom to invite and include, they would also be choosing to exclude others and that did not sit right with their culture. In her world, the whole village would attend a wedding, and everyone would celebrate and lend a hand.

Back to my world…instead of a spa party, we contemplated our backyard.

Initially I balked at the idea. I did not think our humble abode could accommodate 20+ kids. How would the children entertain themselves? I would have to make the budget stretch to cover entertainment AND feed them. We didn’t have a fancy backyard with a pool and swing set.

What we had, however, was the intention.

On the morning of the party, a parent called with a challenge – in addition to her twins, who were both Lauren’s friends, she was hosting three of their cousins. Unfortunately, she could not leave them behind so no-one would attend. I said, bring them all.

That day, we grilled countless hotdogs and opened many bags of chips and Capri Sun. We tossed balls on the lawn, had an easel for painting, hula hoops and balloons. We watched the kids play for hours – tag, mini-soccer etc. Nothing got destroyed. And Lauren said her friends loved the party because they had fun just playing outside. There was no loudspeaker telling them it was time to go party room 5. There was no time pressure to be hustled out of a room in 90 minutes. They simply played and it worked for everyone. A few parents jumped in at the end and helped to clean up.

It was a big lesson for me. I had started with the desire to create an exclusive event. I had believed that to make it special we would have to exclude and limit the numbers. It turned out that making it inclusive made it even more memorable.

Think for a moment. Are there opportunities you can identify to change your thinking or your approach on something to make it more inclusive? Can you reflect on who you are not designing for, why not and whether you should be considering them? How and where will you show up as an advocate to include others?

In a world gripped by a global pandemic and the turmoil caused by systemic oppression and inequality, I believe that cooperation, collaboration, and inclusion are more necessary than ever. All of us can play a role in designing workplaces, communities, and classrooms that embrace all forms of diversity and create a deeper sense of belonging. We simply need to start with the intention and lean into it every day.

Begin by telling yourself you do not know how not to invite and let the possibilities flow from there.

Thanks for stopping by. Share your comments below, hit ‘like’ and ‘subscribe’. I post new content each week.

© Arlene Amitirigala 2020. All Rights Reserved.

“It Should Not Have Been Sunday”

Service at St. Mark’s, 2011

This is part of the series Lessons from the Backseat…I was knee-deep leading the launch of a communications campaign across Latin America and the Caribbean. I was working with a first-class agency and we had been busting our butts to be ready for Monday’s launch: ensuring all assets were delivered, holding briefing sessions with leaders, getting merchandise in place, presentations, posters, videos, speeches, you name it. Still, as invariably happens with campaigns, everything was down to the wire. 

Hence it was that I was working on a Sunday morning. I was supporting a colleague in Colombia who couldn’t download the materials and had several issues. I had this uncomfortable feeling in my stomach as the minutes ticked by; Lauren and I were both dressed and ready for Church and Sunday School and I had to leave by 10:00 to make it there. Lauren was patiently watching episodes of her favorite – Dora the Explorer and Aris was napping. I saw no other way out of this, I would skip Church to ensure that my colleague had everything as quickly as possible.  

After 10:30 had passed and the crisis was averted, I got up from my desk. Lauren rose too and asked if we were leaving for Church. I’ve since fielded far more awkward questions but facing my four-year old daughter was a tricky one that morning. 

Me: It’s too late. We’re not going.  

Lauren: Why? Why didn’t we leave on time? You didn’t know the time Mommy? 

Me: I was working sweetie. I had an important project to deliver and I was helping my colleague to figure things out.

Little Lauren was not amused. She set her face and spoke firmly in perfect sentences, “It should not have been Sunday. You take me to Sunday School on a Sunday. Next time tell your work people that you have to take me to Sunday School.”  

That was it. Sunday Sermon delivered from the backseat. Then silence.  

As a working parent I have lived these moments and had to make difficult choices all the time. Either which way I felt guilty or out of balance. People talk about Mom guilt, but women don’t have a patent on it – men face it too.  

There are so many streams of advice – create boundaries; accept that you will always feel guilty and live with it; when you are with your kids be present and forget about the rest; learn to prioritize; you can have it all; you can’t have it all…yadda, yadda, yadda.   

Truly, for me there was no perfect way or ideal solution. Sometimes a particular piece of advice would work and other times it was useless. Donning my Superwoman cape would work some days and other days I would run out of kryptonite and fall to the ground eating dust.  

However, the big lesson I appreciated that Sunday was that it’s important to set boundaries and to communicate them. It doesn’t mean being inflexible, but it means you know what’s important to you and you choose to live your life in a way that honors your priorities. I could have explained to my colleague and asked her to give me an hour so I could take Lauren and then get back online. Or I could have explained to Lauren beforehand and told her that we were going to miss Church that Sunday. The key thing is not to allow the choice to ‘happen to you’ but to consciously and intentionally make the choice.   

Do you know what works for you in situations like these? It’s worth the effort to figure out what does, to practice it and share with others. We all can use some help.

Colors are for Everyone

photo credit: Arlene Amitirigala. All rights reserved.

This is part of the series Lessons from the Backseat…One day, my son Aris had a color crisis. At age five, he had that pure, undiluted logic that children possess. He never pretended to understand words that he didn’t know or expressions that were new to him. He wasn’t afraid to ask questions…And he wasn’t convinced that some colors were only for girls.  

He whispered the question one Sunday while snuggled up beside me in Church. “Mommy, can boys like pink and purple?”   

“Of course,” I replied.  

“But Gianna said that purple is only for girls”.  

I said, “No it’s not.”  

And then he smiled contentedly. “Colors are for everyone.” He said with quiet conviction. I only wish that had lasted. 

I sat in the pews suddenly too distracted to listen to the sermon that morning. Five-year-old Gianna from his pre-school had clearly received the memo – there are ‘boy colors’ and ‘girl colors’. 

Why do we use blue and pink to close off possibility at such a young age? We impose cultural stereotypes and enforce strict gender-coded norms on young, unsuspecting minds. We shut down creativity and exploration and, for heaven’s sake, the option to wear purple or blue or pink!  

The effect of this gender-conditioning is long lasting. Teenage boys scorn pink t-shirts. A man is seen as either revolutionary for wearing pink, or he is praised for supporting breast cancer awareness month. Efforts such as the Like a Girl campaign by Always™ demonstrate our fight to break down gender-stereotypes for girls. Are we campaigning as hard for boys before they get trapped in rigid, traditional norms of masculinity?  

Honestly, there are some things I wish I had done differently with my kids. Not that I think they have suffered unduly. But I’ve been guilty of toeing the line on gender-coded norms and living within the confinement of cultural stereotypes. They are still young though, and I’d like to think it’s not too late to change. 

Today, for every child in your life, and for the child that is within you, make a promise to liberate yourself from any useless norms that you have accepted. What we learn, we can unlearn. Start with your wardrobe. Colors are for everyone. 

Thank you for stopping by. Please share your comments below and visit again soon. Don’t forget to subscribe and share. I post new content each week.

© Arlene Amitirigala 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Give Them What They Want

This is part of the series Lessons from the Backseat…When my children were little, they had joint parties, but as they got older each one wanted their own celebration. With each party came the inevitable question – what about the birthday loot bags? Twice a year I was thrown into a tailspin of figuring out what and how many items to place in each goodie bag, whether the bags should be gender specific and… how much money to budget. 

When Aris was turning nine, I decided to step up my game – surely it was time for loot bags with useful educational items – perhaps a mini puzzle and a rubix’s cube or a book for each child?  

Off I went with my daughter Lauren to Asda, the mega store in the U.K. I was browsing and asking her opinion on a few items that I was contemplating when she interrupted me sharply, “Mom, what are you doing?” Without further ado, she led me to the candy aisle, grabbed a multipack of candy and said, “This is what kids want. Give them what they want.” With that, she grabbed several different varieties of candy and dropped them into the cart. Problem solved. 

That moment stayed with me for a few reasons, particularly because of my role in internal communications and employee engagement.   

How often have you seen this scenario play out – a small team gathers to brainstorm ideas of how to reward employees, how to engage them and which channels to use to reach them? The challenge is always to be innovative, to do something new, game changing, and exciting. But at the core of it all, is there any real focus on giving people what they want? 

Don’t get me wrong, this is business after all, and it is also necessary to shift things up sometimes, to use new channels and to continually aim to surprise and delight your people. But are you paying attention to the research? Did you ask them what they would like, and do you know what is most important to them? 

It is essential to have your finger on the pulse or you might spend more than you need to in terms of time and resources. Often, less is more. There I was looking at books and puzzles when some Haribos gummies were perfectly fine! Even worse, you might miss the mark completely and lose a valuable opportunity to deepen commitment and gain engagement.  

One of the key things that I’ve learnt along my journey is that everyone wants to know that they matter, and you don’t need to spend loads of money for that to happen. This is true at home, in relationships and in the workplace. So, I encourage you to invest time in communicating and go deeper to truly gain understanding. Do the research. Ask people what’s important to them. And when they tell you – act on it.  

Are you due a treat? Reward yourself.

This is part of the series Lessons from the Backseat…

One day, a few years ago, I stopped at the ATM to get cash to cover some bills. Having agreed to pay some service providers in cash, I withdrew more than I usually would on a normal occasion. Lauren was watching from her rear vantage point, securely strapped in on her booster seat. She was stunned as she counted the bills that slid from the machine. “Five hundred dollars!” she exclaimed, “That’s a lot of money Mommy! What are you going to with that?” I explained to her that I was going to use it to pay some bills.  

She said, “you should buy yourself something first Mommy, you should treat yourself.”  I shook my head but she insisted.

“Mommy, do you have a wand, you should buy yourself a wand.” Yes, she was in her princess phase so naturally, a wand would be a reasonably good purchase. In her seven-year-old mind I was fully deserving of a treat and she had boldly offered her best suggestion.  

I chuckled then but I didn’t lose the lesson. I noticed that she said ‘first’. This wasn’t lost on me as it echoed all those old adages we have heard: ‘pay yourself first’, ‘put on your oxygen mask first and then assist those around you’. So many of us have a problem with putting ourselves first, yet it is the necessary thing to do if you are to thrive. Again, the saying goes – you can’t pour from an empty cup. Sure, there will be more bills to pay, unending work and responsibilities, but have you paused to check in on your own needs? It just might be time to give yourself a treat! 

And if we glance through the corporate lens: when you work hard with your team and you accomplish something, even a small breakthrough, remember to celebrate. Celebrate yourselves and celebrate your successes. A reward doesn’t have to be extravagant or expensive either, it can simply be verbally highlighting what you have achieved. My friend Carole sent me a note recently with this quote from Ralph Marston, “Reward yourself for your discipline and persistence by feeling truly good about what you’re able to get accomplished.” 

Why not make that part of your daily life – feeling good and celebrating what you have accomplished. And start treating yourself more. It’s an important act of motivation. Do it for yourself and do it for your team. You both deserve it! 

Thank you for stopping by. Please share your comments below and visit again soon. Don’t forget to subscribe and share. I post new content each week.

© Arlene Amitirigala 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Trust and Let Go

Aris stands ready in goal

This is part of the series Lessons from the Backseat… My son Aris started soccer classes when he was five years old. His Dad would take him to the field on weekdays. On Saturdays, when I went to watch the games, I spent half the time cheering and the other half giggling. Have you ever watched little kids play soccer? They squabble with their own team members for the ball, chase halfway down the field before they realise they are heading to their own goal and they don’t know how to control the ball yet so it’s bouncing all over the field. I encouraged Aris to just enjoy the games and have a good time. 

But the first time he was goalie all that talk about ‘just have a good time’ went through the window. My heart was in my mouth as I watched the coach suit him up. All I could think was, ‘Oh no, that is too much responsibility, he’s not ready. If the other side scores – he is going to be crushed.’ And then I was driven by over-performing parent paranoia – I didn’t want my son to be the one to let down the team. 

I was standing on the sidelines consumed with worry. And then, my five-year-old son, who must have been receiving the most powerful psychic energy ever or, perhaps, just knows his Mom, looked over at me. He looked me straight in the eyes and gave me a settle-down hand signal as if to say, ‘I’ve got this’. I had to simply trust him to get the job done. He did a spectacular job as goalie and his team won that Saturday. 

This was like my lesson of giving people freedom to succeed but the difference here is the trust factor. Have you ever told someone “‘go ahead, you’re in charge of this” but you secretly didn’t trust them to do it well? Guess what? It wasn’t a secret. They could feel your lack of trust and it probably robbed them of much needed confidence. I’m so glad my son had the five-year-old presence of mind to call me on my lack of faith. 

When you assign a task, if you don’t trust your people to get the job done, or to do it right, then you might as well not let them do it. And if you have been on the other side of not being trusted, you know it’s not a great feeling and it can affect your performance.  

So, next time see if this works – back off, have faith, and let go. Trust your people to get the job done and free up your mind to focus on other things.  

Like a boss!

Thank you for stopping by. Please share your comments below and visit again soon. Don’t forget to subscribe and share. I post new content each week.

© Arlene Amitirigala 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Learn to get along…or you’ll be miserable

Me and Laurencita on the way home from school

This is part of the series Lessons from the backseat …

Years ago, when they were little, I didn’t often have the privilege of picking up the kids from school as I had a helluva commute from Miami to Fort Lauderdale that could take up to two hours on a bad day. So, whenever I did, it was a special treat. Lauren, especially, was always in a chatty mood and I loved it. It was like my favorite soap opera being narrated and I had to keep up with the vast cast of characters.

One day, when she was almost nine, she hopped into the car and started telling me about the  ongoing drama between Joey and Alyssa (names changed to protect identities). “Alyssa hates Joey, they fight all the time during aftercare. It’s getting out of hand. She really hates him.”

“Wow”, I said to her, “I wonder why.” She shrugged, she didn’t know the source of the tension and she hadn’t figured it out but then she told me that she had the chance to talk with Alyssa as they walked together at dismissal. And this is what she she said to her…  

“You know, you should try not to have enemies where you spend the most time.”

Honestly, I felt like that piece of 9-year-old wisdom was uncanny. How true is that folks?

She didn’t say don’t have enemies, cause that is kind of challenging, right? I mean, we know how the world works, not everyone is going to like you. She said try not to have enemies where you spend the most time. This deeply resonated with me.

It almost goes without saying at home – no one wants to live in an environment where there is strife. The tricky one is work where we get paid to show up and do a job. In most environments we have to work collaboratively and should strive to work inclusively. We are expected to get along or else it makes an eight or nine-hour day pretty difficult. Good relationships help to move projects along successfully. If we don’t learn to get along then we make our own lives miserable and it slows down productivity.

So take the time to resolve differences, especially where you spend the most time. Lean in and have conversations that bridge a gap and, in case your empathy tank is on low, just remember that in any given moment, everyone, including you, is doing the best they can.

Thank you for stopping by. Please share your comments below and visit again soon. Don’t forget to subscribe and share. I post new content each week.

© Arlene Amitirigala 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Give people freedom to succeed

This is part of the series Lessons from the Backseat

Often when people talk about management or leadership they talk about getting in the driver’s seat. It sounds good, doesn’t it? Being in control. You are at the wheel and you have a clear view ahead. But what about the passengers in the back seat? Do you ever stop to listen to them? After my children were born, I would stop at traffic lights and just look behind me at my two miracles in amazement and wonder. Little did I know that literally from my backseat would come some of my most important lessons in leadership, life, and love.

When my son Aris was three-years old I would strap him into his car seat every day before heading off to preschool. One day, my husband and I had to share a car as mine was at the mechanics. Hubby was driving so I was relegated to the passenger seat. I got in first, expecting that he would strap in Aris. Imagine my shock when my husband put him in the car seat and said ‘buckle up’. Then, I watched open mouthed as my ‘helpless’ son struggled briefly with his three point harness and snapped them all in place.

photo credit and copyright owned by Arlene Amitirigala.

I listened in utter amazement as my husband said ‘good job’ and then they exchanged a high five, each with victorious grins. And then we were off. How could it be that I had absolutely no idea what my son was capable of. All this time, I was fussing over him and doing something that he was perfectly capable of doing himself. I felt a rush of disappointment and struggled to find the lesson in this.

So often we don’t try because no-one forces us to.  We become complacent and actually start believing in our self-imagined limitations. 

Are you being stretched, given the opportunity to flex your creativity, try your hand at something you have been itching to do? The best kind of leader knows how to give us room to aim higher and accomplish more. Ask for the chance and then give it a go.

And if you are in the driver’s seat, the next time you are tempted to show someone exactly how to do something, or worse, to do it for them, hit the pause button, step back and give them space. Give them the freedom to succeed.

Thank you for stopping by. Share your thoughts in the comments below. Like and subscribe – I post new content every week.

© Arlene Amitirigala 2020. All Rights Reserved.