REAL Talk “Perfectly Imperfect in Every Way” by Morgan Brown

Morgan Brown

Morgan Brown, Speaker

Five students capped off their study of organizational leadership by presenting a TED-style talk for the Cottey College community on April 11, 2019. The event was called REAL talk, short for Recognize Empowered, Authentic Leadership at Cottey. The speakers were on the brink of receiving their bachelor’s degrees in organizational leadership. Speakers included Tiffany Winter, Sarasota, Florida; Morgan Brown, Hernando, Florida; Karlie Acton, Williamsburg, Michigan; Darlina Rose, Vancouver, Washington; and Jemimah Nasara, Denton, Texas. We present three of the talks.

“Perfectly Imperfect in Every Way” by Morgan Brown

I tend to think there are two types of people in the world — perfectionists and everyone else. I most definitely fall into the perfectionist category. I obsessively perfect Powerpoint presentations, arrive to events at least 15 minutes early, and attempt to tame my wild mane of curls daily.

Now, we all have at least one perfectionist in our lives. These are the people who burn the midnight oil in order to turn in the perfect first draft of their English assignment or stay late at work in order to fine-tune the details of a report.

Morgan Brown

The REAL Talk program took place in the Missouri Recital Hall at the Haidee and Allen Wild Center for the Arts.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a perfectionist is “a person who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection.” But where is the grace in that? After all, we are only human. Vince Lombardi said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

So how do we maintain a drive for excellence without sacrificing ourselves in the process? This has taken me years of trial and error. As far back as elementary school, I remember working hard on a science project, striving for my fourth grade notion of perfection. I stayed up late the night before in order to finish the project, my mother eventually telling me to go to bed and finish in the morning. That next day, I was so nervous I made myself sick. The notion of taking a much-needed sick day and missing school, thereby ruining my perfect attendance record, only served to make me feel even worse. Here you see my need for perfection driving me to sickness. My ten-year-old body literally couldn’t handle that much stress. This leads to our first lesson: Take care of yourself. Do not allow yourself to sacrifice your mental or physical health and well-being in the pursuit of perfection.

My constant need for perfection intensified my freshman year of college. My need for the perfect written assignment often stood in the way of completing tasks. Now, I always turned my work in on time, and it is always complete, but my need for the perfection of that assignment caused me to first procrastinate then obsess. Sometimes it would take me ten minutes just to write a sentence as I painstakingly combed through each syllable until I was happy with the sentence and didn’t think it could be improved. Sometimes, I would get stuck on just one word or phrase, sifting through my mental files to find the best way to convey my message.

Moving into my sophomore year, my struggle with perfectionism took another turn. I realized that my need for perfection affected my interactions with others while working in teams. During one particular group presentation, I resented feeling like I was the only one that cared enough to put extra hours into our project to make it as perfect as it could possibly be. When others in the group submitted work that did not meet my exceedingly high standards, I would get upset, frustrated and anxious about the presentation, feeling like it would inevitably end in disaster.

About this time, I learned about Stephen Covey’s Circles of Concern, Influence, and Control from his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Essentially, Covey shares the idea of three circles.

On the outside, you have the circle of concern. This circle represents the things that we care about and may affect us, but over which we have no control. In the example of the group presentation, I had no control over the actions of others within the group. If a member of the group didn’t show up to the presentation, I had no control over that. If they didn’t finish their slides until the last possible moment, I also had no control over that. I had to let go of these worries because they weren’t serving me and I had no way of changing them, so it was no use to worry about them.

The middle circle is the circle of influence. This circle represents the things that you can influence, but can’t control. With the group project, I could suggest changes or edits to our presentation. I could suggest that we meet early to practice the presentation together. These were the things over which I had influence and I could affect change by using that influence.

The center circle in the circle of control. This circle houses the things that you can control, such as the state of your presentation slides, how early you arrive to the presentation, and how prepared you are to speak on the topic. These are the things upon which you should spend the majority of your time. So, in essence, lesson number three: Focus your attention on the things you can control, influence the process when you can, and let go of the things that are out of your hands. Trust me, you and those around you will be much happier.

Morgan Brown

The REAL Talk program took place in the Missouri Recital Hall at the Haidee and Allen Wild Center for the Arts.

My dalliance with perfectionism persisted into my junior year of college. It was then that I realized that there was one thing stopping me from spending more time with my friends and being in the present moment. It was that one idea, that one concept, my least favorite word — spontaneity. Spontaneity, a word that still, on occasion, drives terror into my soul, is defined as the quality of being natural instead of planned in advance. I don’t know about anyone else, but my natural state of equilibrium requires planning in advance!

I’ll never forget the time I put together an itinerary for my trip to Italy in my second year at Cottey. I asked my roommate for input into what she wanted to do so that I could create the schedule. When I finally finished the itinerary, I shared it with her, and wide-eyed, she asked about adding space for spontaneity. In response, I penciled in time every day of the trip where we could be spontaneous from this time to that time in this location. Clearly, I didn’t quite get the concept of spontaneity, and this struggle extended far beyond planning an overseas trip.

At Cottey, my lack of spontaneity and inclination toward structure and schedules kept me isolated in my room, working on homework. When suitemates asked if I’d like to join them on a Sonic run, I’d say I couldn’t go. When a friend invited me to Kansas City with less than 24 hours of notice, I’d turn her down, citing too much homework. When I was invited to a movie with only ten minutes to get ready and go, I’d turn the offer down making up some type of excuse. The truth is, I was so committed to my perfect plan that I felt trapped, unable to change directions.

I now realize that I had created a bubble around myself—living in my comfort zone and blocking new or deeper relationships. When I figured out my need for order was getting in the way of my friendships, I began to venture into the realm of spontaneity. Taking a few pilot tests, I learned I had been staying away from the place were real connections were made; I let go of all my academic stress and let my hair down, stepping out of my comfort zone to have fun. In essence, lesson number four is, simply, step out of your comfort zone and embrace spontaneity.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that it’s the imperfections that define us. It is the imperfections that make us human and set us apart from others. I urge you to learn from my example and celebrate your imperfections.

We’d Love to Hear From You