Perfection is not the solution. Be a lobster.

Lobster in water with red tentacles.
Photo by: Erwin Cox

The Lobster. How does it know it needs to grow? The lobster becomes stressed and uncomfortable in its shell with the feeling that it needs a bigger one. It goes through a difficult process of shedding its former shell and expanding into a new one. With the new shell, the lobster is vulnerable as it takes time for the outer layer to harden. Situational factors determine the length of time, like water temperature. The transition is not perfect. Far from it.

While I have seen lobsters plenty of times, I have never eaten one. However, lobsters are the source of one of my favorite videos by the scholar and spiritual leader Dr. Abraham Twerski. He describes that “times of stress are also signs for signals of growth.” I can relate.

When I’m stressed, uncomfortable, or face adversity, I think about this message and understand growth is the answer. I heard a similar idea while interviewing women leaders from around the world for my book A Seat at the Table: Women, Diplomacy, and Lessons for the World. There were two interviews in particular that reinforced this idea of stress and growth. And more groundbreaking, the idea that perfection is not the ultimate goal.

Finnish Ambassador Kirsti Kauppi leads a large Embassy team in Washington, D.C. She sees that the “younger female generations are more demanding vis-à-vis themselves.” It’s an old story — according to Kauppi — that women want to be what she calls “100 percent.” It represents this idea of perfection.

Kauppi explains, “It’s not a very productive attitude toward yourself to always expect to be 100 percent.” I hear about this burden in my friend groups. The goal of striving for everything — career, family, and a sense of belonging — is pervasive. None of us are ever at 100 percent. Building relationships, not only in diplomacy but in all aspects of life, takes imperfection, not perfection.

The expectation of perfection and the focus on our shortcomings hold us back. According to Kauppi, to get rid of the burden of striving for 100 percent, you must build your network of support and relationships.

I heard similar concerns from the Swedish Ambassador to the U.S. Karin Olofsdotter. Olofsdotter worries about the younger generations as she watches her children become teenagers. “I think this new generation of millennials and onwards are called the perfect generation, as in everything should be perfect — your home should be perfect, you should look perfect, and grades should be perfect.”

Olofsdotter says that it seems certain age groups won’t take risks or chances because of this standard of perfection. She’s concerned that these future generations will lose out because they don’t jump on chance opportunities.

She describes that the Swedish Ministry’s Head of Personnel has a harder time recruiting women to managerial positions. A woman will read a list of seven qualifications and say, “I only have five or six, I can’t apply.” A man will say, “I fit two, that job is for me!” A Harvard Business Review article underscores this notion.

Taking a chance and believing in yourself are crucial. Olofsdotter says we need to place greater trust in our abilities. While she shared it’s a generalization of a trend, this situation is “the Achilles heel for women.”

It is uncomfortable to grow and requires taking risks. Just as if a lobster remains perfect in its shell, it will never grow. I feel this internal struggle within myself. I know I am vulnerable especially as situations outside my control are factors for growth. It takes risk, stress, and imperfection to grow. A lesson that the lobster continues to teach us.

In this article series, I share excerpts and stories from my book A Seat at the Table: Women, Diplomacy, and Lessons for the World. I hope you enjoyed the post! If you’re interested in reading A Seat at the Table, it is available on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and Kobo. If you want to connect, follow me on Twitter @realSusanSloan and reach me on my website



Susan Sloan
A Seat at the Table: Women, Diplomacy, and Lessons for the World

Author of A Seat at the Table: Women, Diplomacy, and Lessons for the World. Twitter @realSusanSloan