Need Permission to Be Imperfect? Here it is! My Imperfect Tedx Talk

Posted by on Jun 15, 2015 | 7 Comments


Among other things I’m working to remedy, I have always been my own worst critic, and as I sat watching my Tedx talk I wanted to hide.  To say I was not crazy about it, would be an understatement.

I’m in good company. I don’t have enough digits on my person to count the number of people I know, love, and admire who beat themselves up. Brilliant, wise, talented people who notice all that is wrong and miss all that is right.   How many of us are our own worst enemy?

How many of us are our own worst enemy?

A few days ago I sat listening to Natalie Portman’s Harvard Commencement address with tears of disbelief running down my face.

“So I have to admit,” she said, “even 12 years after my graduation, I’m still insecure about my own worthiness. I have to remind myself today, ‘you are here for a reason’…. I felt like there had been some mistake. That I wasn’t smart enough to be in this company. And that every time I opened my mouth I would have to prove I wasn’t just a dumb actress…”

How could someone so accomplished and beautiful feel this way, I wondered? Surely, once you’ve won an Academy Award you would be immune to such things. But while I have certainly not stood behind a Harvard podium, I could relate. The Ted stage is hallowed ground.

The kicker is, during my talk I publicly declared that I’m giving up on being perfect, and yet… it sucked not to be. I want to give up being perfect. I’m doing everything I can to embrace my own imperfections on a logical level.  I practice self-compassion and gratitude and mindfulness and all the things that are supposed to make me impervious to the negative forces within.  Yet viscerally I couldn’t escape my own amygdala-fueled response.   When I watched the video my pulse elevated, my breathing grew shallow and my heart started pounding. I became emotionally flooded in an instant.

It can be hard to stand up to your own scrutiny. Like Laura in The Glass Menagerie, our flaws metastasize.   We experience the feelings and scramble to make sense of it. What does it mean?   Are you confident or insecure? Successful or a failure? Good or bad? Our black and white definitions thrusting us into a simplistic box in which we don’t belong. What if it’s not that simple?

What if we’re all confident and insecure? What if we’re all a success and a failure? Good and bad? What if there is no either-or, but rather a long continuum that we play like scales on a keyboard? Some highs, some lows, and a lot of notes in between that tie the two together to make the music that is our life.

What if we’re all confident and insecure, a success and a failure, good and bad?

When I watched the video I wanted to bury it. To leave it hidden in the dark corners of the internet where nobody would think to search. I wanted to retreat into the safety of obscurity.   But my talk was about being brave, and when I asked myself, “What is the brave thing to do?” the answer wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

For being our real self, powerfully – what I call brave – isn’t always going to be pretty, or easy, or fun. It’s sometimes going to be incredibly uncomfortable, and frightening, and hard. And I know you’ve experienced this too. Maybe in wanting to be real, but feeling like you need to “play the game”. Or risk stepping outside your comfort zone. Or claiming your own voice, living your passion, or going against the norm. Perhaps it’s the fear of judgment from others. Or like me, the tyranny of your own inner critic. As I said in my talk, how can we be brave in the face of our own inescapable humanity?

Being brave isn’t always going to be pretty, or easy, or fun.

And my answer stays the same. We have to find a way to focus on making an impact that that is more expansive than our limited boxes can contain.   To bust free of ourselves.   To be imperfect and keep showing up anyway.

And so with that in mind I share my passionate yet imperfect Tedx talk. My hope is that it gives you permission to be imperfect too. For only when we risk being imperfect, can we be our real selves.



©OnStage Leadership, 2015

Upcoming sessions of OnStage Leadership:  Dallas – July 7, 2015;  NYC (tbd summer/fall), 2015 (specific dates tbd),  please notify us if interested in participating or being put on the wait-list.

Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop.  Click here to read what people are saying!  If you’re interested in more information, or in having Kimberly come speak to your group on topics around Authentic Leadership, Influence, Presence, Engagement, Purpose in the workplace, or Presentation Skills we’d love to hear from you!

Did you catch my interview on Voice of America’s Working on Purpose Channel?  If not, you can!  Bringing Our True and Best Selves to Work:  Cultivating Authentic Leadership with Kimberly Davis



  1. Dani Graham-Burtsfield
    June 16, 2015

    My Friend!
    This was simply fantastic! And the timing was amazing. I’m in the middle of a dialogue w/other teachers (in Long Island ironically) about this very topic of perfectionism. Cannot wait to share this with them!!

    LOVED, LOVED listening to your every word. Your parallels from the acting world to the business world also connect to educators for sure. So amazing!!

  2. Kimberly
    June 16, 2015

    Thanks so much, Dani, for taking the time to let me know how you felt – I’m grateful! I’m glad it was helpful! I may want to pick your brain about how you think this conversation can best help educators as I’m speaking to a school district in CA in August and want to be sure I can best serve them.

  3. Dani Burtsfield
    June 17, 2015

    The teachers I shared this were blown away by your talk! Some listened multiple times (as I did!). This talk definitely connects to teachers, I can assure you!! Yes, let’s visit more about this next month.. I will PM you with my cell in Facebook so we can connect and plan time to see each other when you’re home. So excited to see you!!

  4. Karla Ogle
    June 19, 2015

    Fantastic! Thanks so much for sharing. It was good to see you in action. Well Done!

  5. Kimberly
    June 22, 2015

    Thanks so much, Karla! I appreciate you taking the time to watch it and comment!

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