Progress Over Perfection

Earlier in my career as a school administrator, my focus was on perfection. Make sure to do it right. Every time. At times, it was more process over people and I aimed to get things right at all costs.
Thank goodness that was MUCH earlier in my career. There is wisdom that comes with time and experiences, and in that time, much of what I learned was the importance of progress over perfection.
The younger me would have processed in ways that sounded like:
– I only have one attempt and if I get it wrong, I’ll be ruined.
– If I can do this right, I might as well quit.
– If I can’t get others to listen to me and go along with my ideas, what’s the point?
– If I fail I’ll be humiliated.
– I have to be better every time.
– I’m so much younger than others that I have to be perfect.
The wiser me processes in ways that sound more like:
– I can almost always have a redo.
– I don’t always have to be 100% and others will probably like me better if I don’t appear to be perfect.
– Failure is part of life and the goal is to learn from it.
– I’ll keep shooting and sooner or later I’ll make the basket, hit the target time, etc.
– As long as someone doesn’t dies, its okay to make a mistake.
And yes, that last one is a bit ridiculous, but you get the point. At times, I was so driven by the outcome and concerned with the way I would be perceived that I tried to excel at all costs instead of slowing down and enjoying the journey. At times, I’ve taken myself too seriously, and I’m sure you can relate.
What progress does is bridge the gap between ability and ambition. Progress is about moving forward and gaining sped, not on being perfect as you approach all that you do. So what tips are out there to aim for the other ‘p’ word?
Anticipate Problems
Regardless of how well you prepare, you will get knocked down. I will get knocked down. This is life and we will all face setbacks, especially professionally. There is no fail safe approach to leading or following. We’ll all face obstacles along the way.
But the way we face them is what makes us who we are and molds us into the leaders we need to be. Are there ways to plan for possible setbacks? With work projects, is it worth creating a Plan B and Plan C for a few minutes to at least anticipate how quickly you and your team can shift the focus a different direction if the first doesn’t work? Is there an approach to working together to pivot on a dime?
Self Doubt Comes with the Territory
I have yet to meet a leader who hasn’t faced the self-doubt monster, otherwise known as the imposter syndrome. We all head into new challenges feeling like we won’t be ready, won’t be good enough, will be found to be someone who wasn’t qualified in the first place.
No matter how you prepare, self doubt is a gut puncher. And if you’ve felt that, you’re not alone. Take a deep breath, connect with your supporters, reach out when you need your mentor, and be honest when you don’t know an answer and then find it and share!
Ignore the Hysterionics
With perfection comes drama, questions, and more. So bypass them. Look for steps to achieve and don’t feel a need to do it perfectly. When you take the perfection route, you end up fighting change and getting caught up in the drama rather than side stepping it.
Think of it as a marathon rather than a sprint. Do your training runs. Stick to it during inclement weather. Make the goals a part of each day and invest a little more in the achievement bank account until you’ve deposited enough to collect it.
Strengthen the Lifeskill of Patience
It’s going to take as long as it is going to take. So take the time. Think of the marathon approach. The race isn’t run the day you cross the starting line with the bib on – its each and every training run that you’re scheduled to take prior to the race. Learn to be patient.
There are no shortcuts in life, and to get to the place of comfort and growth, the focus on progress is so vastly MORE important than the emphasis on being perfect and doing it admirably the first time around. The universe doesn’t demand perfection from us. We do that to ourselves. Keep showing up and find the way to the finish line. And like the marathon metaphor reminds us, there are only two winners in a marathon of 30,000 runners. Chances are, you won’t win. So guess what? The pressure is off.
Run the race. Learn the lessons. Enjoy the journey.
Check out this video here on Harvard Business Review about the power of small wins. Less than five minutes. Worth the time!