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A Christmas Carol

(Imperfectly Revised Edition)

It’s a cold and misty winter evening. The wind howls through the treetops. Cue the scary music.

GOPP: Hey there. How’s it going?

Me: (Frightened) Who are you?

GOPP: I’m the GOPP.


GOPP: The Ghost of Perfection Past. Listen, I don’t have a lot of time. There are thousands of women just like you and I’ve got to visit all of them tonight. So if you don’t mind, I’m just gonna move this thing along. Look over there, into the mist.

Me: I don’t see anything . . . wait! It looks like some kind of movie and—I think I see people? Yeah, there are a lot of little ones; kids, I guess, and one really big—hey, wait a minute! That’s me. And I’m—

GOPP: Six months pregnant with your second child, hosting a party for your three-year-old and 13 of her closest friends. That’s a great party dress she’s got on—brand-new, right? Look at all those kiddos running amok in your sparkling clean house. Their moms don’t seem to mind, but maybe it’s because they’re so taken with the brie and walnut tart you made from scratch, the pastry chased down with the warm apple cider you pressed yourself. Ohh, check it out: the little boy in the plaid pants just spilled his apple juice all over your new sofa. You’re smiling, but do I detect a slight twitch? Anyway, that’s some craft table you’ve got set up in the kitchen, but . . . I think one of the kids is eating paste. Yes, he’s definitely eating paste. I seriously doubt he’ll be hungry for the homemade mac and cheese you just put in the oven. Okay, so let’s fast-forward a few hours. Now what do you see?

Me: I don’t even need to look. It’s me, mopping the floor and cleaning up to get ready for—

GOPP: Your second party of the day: Your husband’s surprise 30th birthday party. For 60 people.

Me: Yeah. I know. Kinda crazy, right?

GOPP: Kinda? Are you kidding me? That’s insane! And you and I know I could show you dozens, even hundreds more of scenes like this: You, in your never-ending quest for perfection. Remember when you were in college and you got your first C, in a psychology class? Your response? Like the world was about to be hit by a meteor. Then there are all those scenes of you in your kitchen, acting like some kind of Julie Child-wanna be, or auditioning for a spot on Chopped. I mean, really—it’s just food. Of course, there’s a ton of images from your corporate life—did you think working all those hours was gonna earn you some kind of badge of honor? Remember those years you spent in corporate America, trying so hard to make certain you didn’t screw up? News flash: Everyone screws up! Men seem to know this and for them, it’s no big deal. They just move on, and up, typically. But women—wow. When women make a mistake, why do they make it seem like they’ve committed a murder?

Me: Yeah, well, in defense of my fellow females, you’ve got to admit that the world gives men a pass most of the time. Look around—they’ve been in charge a very long time and they’ve clearly messed up a lot. But they continue to stay in charge.

GOPP: And whose fault is that? Women can vote, right? And start corporations, lead businesses, take charge. Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand the degree of difficulty for women in this world is far greater than for men. And the world demands far more perfection from women than from men. For proof, look no further than Hillary Clinton and Trump. But I have also seen, far too many times, that by wanting, trying, to get it “just right,” by assuming that you don’t know as much or have as much experience as someone with more testosterone than you do, by being afraid to fail, sometimes women don’t even start. I will give you credit. You started, but your need to “never fail” meant you also missed a lot of opportunities. And you nearly drove yourself, and everyone around you, crazy with your need to get it perfectly right every time. Anyway, I can’t show you all of your little “Perfection Plays” because as I said, I’ve got too many stressed-out women to visit tonight and I don’t have much time. Mind if I hand you off to my friend?

Me: Your friend?

Cue the wind whistling, scary music, yadda yadda.

GOPF: Hey.

Me: Who are you?

GOPF: I’m the Ghost of Perfection Future, and by now, you know the drill. Look into the mist. What do you see?

Me: It’s a woman. Is that me? That can’t be me!

GOPF: Bingo. That’s you, circa 2030, post-plastic surgery. What do you think?

Me: My God! I look like a cross between Priscilla Presley and Meg Ryan. Or maybe more like Kenny Rogers and Mickey Rourke. Why would I do that to myself?

GOPF: Seriously? You need me to answer that? You want to be perfect, so I guess you need to look the part.

Me: But I don’t. Want to look or be perfect, I mean. And anyway, that’s not what perfect looks like. That looks more like a puppet made out of paper mache. Or Joan Rivers, right before she died. I mean, my face doesn’t even move. And it doesn’t look real.

GOPF: Exactly. Okay, I’m not supposed to do this, but since I think you’re on the right track, I’m going to let you in on a little secret that I like to share with women like just you: Perfection isn’t real. Perfection, on its best day, is boring. And on its worst day, it’s downright dangerous. To you and to everyone around you. Do you really want to set the bar that high for your kids, your daughter especially, knowing that she’ll never reach it but might spend a frustrated lifetime trying? Do you really think you learn anything from striving for perfection? Aren’t you exhausted? So listen up: why don’t you simply chill and try just being you, flaws and all? As Dr. Seuss, the patron saint of wisdom once said: “Always be yourself, because the people that matter don’t mind, and the ones that mind don’t matter.” Be you, try and fail, and life will be a whole lot easier. And happier.

Me: Got it, thanks. Can I go back to bed now?

GOPF: Sure.

Me: And in the morning, I don’t have to ask a small boy to buy me a turkey, do I?

GOPF: Not unless you want to.

Me: Thanks.

Photo by Jessica Fadel at


  1. Love this Jill! Very reflective and an important message for all perfectionists, men and women. 😊

    • Awww, glad you think so Meg. Thank you!

  2. Love to read your writing! I’ll chill out with you and look to a more peaceful future

    • Thanks Lisa! I’m in for chilling and peace!!

  3. Great piece Jill!
    And now how do we help our children gain this wisdom sooner than we did?! And…hep them let go of some of our role modeling we’d like a do over on? 😉
    On reflection, the answer is in your story!

    • We just keep trying, because practice makes perf…oops. Scratch that. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Courageous story, Jill!
    And the story lives in so many of us!
    Thank you!

    • Thanks Karen. I’m not sure it’s courageous. I just tried to reflect my own experience, as well as that of so many of the women I know and love, all of us really, really tired of trying so damn hard! The ironic thing is, not only will we never achieve perfection, it’s actually counterproductive to what we’re trying to do in the first place. Getting easier to see it, but it’s still hard to turn it off. For women, that is. The men I know just don’t seem to struggle with it like we do!

  5. Thanks for the belly laughs punctuating the message I need to hear, over and over again ~
    Happy Merry Messy Season to you, Wonderwoman!

    • Hah! I would only fit the description of Wonderwoman in the fact that I’m a woman, and I’m constantly “wondering” about stuff! Thanks for commenting Christy, and Happy Merry Messy Season to you, too!

  6. What a great reflection. Thanks Jill for some words to ponder.

    • Thanks Jane. I hope you never throw away imperfect cookies again! (They were awesome!)

  7. Thank you for making me laugh and leaning into who we are…warts and all!
    Merry Christmas.

    • You’re welcome. I need a lifetime supply of Compound W!

  8. Is it failing because I can’t be perfect or I can’t be perfect so I will fail. It feels like the suns rays being shaded on the ground by a cloud as it slowly approaches from the distance. You can try to run in the opposite direction but you know in the end it will catch up with you.
    So let it come. Embrace it, learn from it, and grow because of it. In the end my hope is that our imperfections will teach our children more than our struggle for perfection.
    Thanks for your thoughts Jill.

    • Good question Shar–I hadn’t thought about it that way. But you make me think of another question: is perfection a failure, or is failing perfection? (My college philosophy professor would be so proud of this discussion.) Seriously, I love the your suggestion of embracing imperfection, learning and growing from it, like you would a friend, inviting it in and maybe even throwing it a party. Because as you know, I’m always up for a party. Thank you for commenting, my friend, and Happy Holidays!

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