With each new conversation I have on this podcast, one big fact is driven home again and again: the path to each individual’s version of success is not a straight one. There are loops and dips and swirls and backtracks. Never once has a journey looked like a steady vertical incline from point A to point B. My guest for this episode has learned to embrace the roller coaster ride towards her successes, but it didn’t always come easy.
After attending Stanford and Harvard Law School, Ashley Menzies Babatunde had to combat her struggle with perfectionism and defining herself by her accomplishments. After her first big professional failure, she began to question everything. Now, Ashley is on a mission to share the human stories behind the highlights through her podcast No Straight Path.
So in this conversation, we’re talking about the nonlinear journey to achieving our dreams, the curse of perfectionism, navigating your winning seasons, and what really defines who we are. Hint: We’re more than our career accomplishments.
BORN WITH INTENSITY
Ashley Menzies Babatunde came into the world with a fire in her belly and a well-structured plan for how her life would go. She starts off, “I just was born intense. I think I was born an overachiever. One story that my family loves to tell is that when I was about three or four years old, I would have a meltdown when I colored outside of the lines. And I started to realize that this is perhaps a metaphor for my trajectory in my life.”
Her family always supported her big dreams, but it was clear from a young age that Ashley’s ambitions were all her own. “I grew up with really supportive parents. I have my dad’s family, they’re from Guyana, so there definitely was this immigrant Caribbean influence in my life. And then my mom’s family is from Arkansas and Mississippi, so there’s this Southern Black influence, but I had a lot of support growing up, which was really amazing.”
She goes on, “Sometimes I talk about my immigrant story, and [people] think, ‘oh, was there so much pressure from your family to succeed? Is this why, you know, you’re like this?’ And I was like, no, I was born intense, that’s just me. It was not my family, they were confused when I talked about when I colored outside of the lines and I had a meltdown, but it was really a family that said ‘go and chase your dreams and we are here to support you.’”
GETTING COMFORTABLE WITH FAILURE
Ashley’s perfectionism didn’t just show up during coloring time, it infiltrated all areas of her life starting at a young age. “I set goals for myself very early. So in addition to this whole coloring outside the lines thing, I also wrote a letter to myself at the age of 10, where I put all of my goals down, and that included going to Stanford and going to Harvard and also becoming an attorney.” Ashley knew her lofty goals wouldn’t be easy to achieve, but she felt confident that if she put the work in, she would always be able to get the end result that she wanted.
And for a while she did, hitting all her self-prescribed milestones, until a major professional roadblock in the form of failing the bar exam rocked her entire world and threw off her carefully-laid plans. After coming down from the initial shock, Ashley knew she needed to take a closer look at herself and her value system to determine why exactly this failure shook her so deeply. At the time she asked herself, “Why am I so shaken by this? Why am I experiencing anxiety, depression, things I hadn’t really experienced before? And I realized it was because I was tying my self worth and my value to my accomplishments, and at that moment, I also was tying it to my failure.”
TRADING PERFECTIONISM FOR EXCELLENCE
The perfectionism that Ashley had for so long assumed was protecting her, was actually setting her up for disappointment when things inevitably didn’t turn out exactly how she invisioned it. “I thought my self-worth was tied to what I did in this world. And once I was able to kind of release that and realize that my value was actually tied more to my humanity and those qualities that helped me overcome the failure and achieve the successes, like the grit and the resilience and the passion, those things never leave you. That’s when I started to realize, okay, that’s what’s most important, those innate qualities.”
Ashley could’ve hidden her failure in shame, but instead she started talking about it–and discovered so many others out there had stories just like hers. She recognized the value in telling those stories, where things don’t go according to plan but somehow seem to work out the way they were meant to in the end. So, after re-taking the bar exam and passing, Ashley started a podcast called No Straight Path to give a voice to those stories of setbacks, pivots, and non-linear successes, with no real plan other than to commit to excellence over perfection this time around: “This commitment to excellence says, hey, I’m committed to putting out a great work product. I’m committed to honing my craft, but it doesn’t have to be perfect.”
Life is full of unpredictable twists and turns, and Ashley’s story shows us that there’s no real way to plan for it; all we can do is hang on tight and lean into the unknown. Press play to hear more about Ashley’s non-linear journey and her advice on how you can ditch the perfectionism and, instead, embrace your imperfect excellence.
MORE FROM ASHLEY MENZIES BABATUNDE
Do you want to learn more about facing your failures and leaning into your own non-linear path? Press play on this conversation and be sure to check out Ashley’s podcast No Straight Path to hear more.