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The Price of Perfection

by Georgeann Halburian Ikuma

The view from the top of the corporate ladder reveals an impressive panorama—gratification, achievement, respect, praise, and money—but it’s not everything the brochure promises. Irene Ortiz-Glass ’93 discovered this when, at her professional peak, she suddenly found herself hitting rock bottom in her personal life. In the darkest depths of her despair, she accepted God’s unwavering grace and guidance, and learned what it truly means to succeed.

In 2007, just 36 years old and at the top of her career, Ortiz-Glass worked tirelessly to maintain the momentum of her meteoric rise. She flew through the ranks as a sales representative at Pitney Bowes, and in a few short years, became a senior partner for a global consulting firm. Although her role as a high-powered corporate executive demanded extensive time to meet project deadlines and travel internationally, she still strived to be a devoted mom to her preteen son and stepdaughter, as well as a doting wife to her new husband. “I honestly believed I was Superwoman and could handle anything that came my way,” said Ortiz-Glass. She fueled her need for perfection in all areas of her life with a laser-focused work ethic, an indomitable will, and, unbeknownst to even those closest to her, a decade-long addiction to diet pills.

While en route from Orange County to Los Angeles for a client meeting one morning, her fast-track lifestyle came to an abrupt halt. “My heart started racing, my palms were sweating, and I felt dizzy and nauseous,” she said, fearing she was experiencing a heart attack due to the multiple, high-dosage diet pills she ingested earlier that day. After cancelling her meeting, Ortiz-Glass returned home knowing she needed to come clean with her family about her addiction. “I cried, prayed, and listened to Christian music all the way home, afraid that I was going to die right there on the freeway.”

Ortiz-Glass spent the next 12 weeks in the grueling trenches of a life-threatening withdrawal. Her depression became so severe that one afternoon she believed suicide was her only option. “I fell on the floor begging God to help me when Philippians 1:6 played over and over in my head, ‘For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus,’” she said. “I knew in my heart that God had a reason and a plan for me. I said, ‘God, I trust in You without being able to see it.’”

With the loving support of her family and a skillful team of doctors, Ortiz-Glass rebuilt her body over the next several months. A reliance on her Christian roots, and her love for theology which blossomed during her time as a communication studies student at APU helped restore her soul. Her mind—the message center that constantly tells her to do more, go faster, be better—stays in check daily by those closest to her, like her son, Luke, whose forgiveness she cherishes most. “He tells me, ‘Mom, you kind of have to get over it, like Jesus. Once you say you’re sorry, He lets it go.’”

For a perfectionist like Ortiz-Glass, acceptance is another rung to climb. “My body will never be able to withstand what my mind can handle,” she said. “It’s a permanent condition, but I’m learning to get out of my own way and rest in the moment.”

In recovery and feeling whole, perhaps for the first time in her life, Ortiz-Glass, national vice president of people transformation for SAP, the world’s leader in enterprise software applications, still has a view from the top, but sees things differently. “I used to function out of fear, but in the corporate world, you need to let your work speak for itself and never lose sight of what you stand for. Only then can you truly succeed,” she said, realizing that by finally letting go, she has been able to hold on to everything she worked so hard to achieve.

Learn more about Irene Ortiz-Glass’ incredible journey as a professional, her life-changing illness, and the struggles she faced as a woman and a Christian in her recently published memoir, Beautifully Broken. To order a copy, email her at ireneglass04@gmail.com.

Georgeann Halburian Ikuma is a freelance writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. ghikuma@yahoo.com

Originally published in the Winter '12 issue of APU Life. Download the full issue (PDF).