A Reflection: ‘Perfection is the enemy of good’

I studied and prepared all night for this meeting. Esq. Apprentice had some funding, but I knew we needed much more, and this funder could be the one to do it. As if preparing for trial, I practiced each line of defense: (1) legal apprenticeship is necessary because we need debt-free paths to becoming lawyers; (2) hundreds of thousands of youth are out of work and school, and among them are the next great legal minds; (3) To truly grapple with the (in)justice system, we need a diverse legal bar that looks like those most negatively impacted by the system… and on and on. I even had some numbers about how we could get it done—and I hate numbers.

When the morning of the informational meeting arrived, I was ready to make my case. I walked into the room, made eye contact with the three people sitting there, and shook hands with each of them firmly—but not too firm. I took my seat. “Thanks for making it out,” they said. “Tell us a bit more about your program.” I launched into my thirty second pitch and paused for a moment. On deck, I had my longer 1-minute and 5-minute pitches ready to go, but I wanted to make sure I left a “natural” pause for questions. If they were hardballers, they would want to jump straight into questioning why they should spend any money supporting Esq. Apprentice, and I was ready to battle until I won them over. So, I paused and waited a beat.

“Wow. That sounds amazing. How can we help?” I was ready to go when I stopped myself...wait, what? Did they just ask me how they could help? I was at a loss. All night, I had prepared to wow them with my expertise and impress them into supporting my work but they were already on board. When I came to, I realized that I was scrambling to put something together…that’s great, happy to hear, these are some numbers, really could use your help with stipends, blah, blah, blah. The meeting went okay. We agreed to stay in contact and the connection is still warm, but I realized that I had prepared for everything except “yes.”

I’ve always thought that I could control a situation with dogged preparation. I already knew that, as a Black woman, I would have to be more prepared than everyone else in my classes in school because I could not let others think that I—and, by association, all black people—were lacking in any way.  As a lawyer, I worked to anticipate every possible counterargument so that my opponents would deem me worthy and so that no judge could accuse me—and all Black people—of being lazy. The battle would be constant. I knew I would get weary, but I could never stop, because if I didn’t do this tireless work, and do it well, I’d ruin some other woman of color’s chance.

Don’t get me wrong—preparation matters. But the problem with working tirelessly is that it leaves very little room for self-care and even less room for dreaming. I was so taken aback in that meeting because I realized that I had sacrificed imagination for some version of perfection and control. And as my two small babies now constantly remind me, I can actually control almost nothing in this life. Not only is perfection ever-elusive, but constantly holding ourselves to that unattainable standard, particularly for Black women, degrades our capacity to imagine joy and abundance.

I left that meeting determined to give all my hopes and dreams at least as much credence as the pressures of perfection such that “yes” would not catch me off guard again.

Are you prepared for “yes”? Have you taken the time to dream a little today? If not, I strongly encourage you to get all by yourself and imagine for just a few moments—and then a few more.

You don’t have to do or be perfect, you just have to do and be good. Sweet dreams!