“‘I didn’t know until I was in my late 20s that I had choices in life,’ Ruth told me. She and I met while sitting side by side at a nail salon and struck up one of those unusually intimate conversations the way one sometimes randomly does with a complete stranger. Ruth got the message when she was young that an appropriate path for her was to become a teacher, get married, have kids, and then stay home to raise them. It didn’t even dawn on her that she had other options — that is, until she was 28 and a friend of hers joined the Peace Corps and moved to South America. “All of a sudden I thought, wait a minute … you mean I can do that?!” At age 62, Ruth says she sometimes wonders what turns her life might have taken if she’d looked within and asked herself what she really wanted.
Something interesting happened when I first started talking with women about perfection. I’d start off by asking them what I thought was a softball question to open the conversation: “Do you believe you need to be perfect?” I assumed the answer would obviously be yes, but nearly all of them said the exact opposite. I began to wonder if maybe I had it all wrong. Then I realized they were answering the question from the very same style of thinking I was trying to unravel. They were giving me what they assumed was the right answer — the perfect answer — the answer that said of course they know that the pursuit of perfection is a demoralizing waste of time and energy. And yet all the stories I was hearing were telling a very different tale.”