Too many people – especially women – suffer from perfectionism. While it used to be that this was the perfect “weakness” to admit in a job interview, perfectionism gets in the way of performance rather than enhancing it. Perfectionists live in fear of mistakes. Gripped in this fear, they struggle with committing to a course of action, to get started, or to finish a project.
Try and make mistakes
I was talking to someone who was in the throws of perfectionism. I joked – why not try and make mistakes? Set that as your goal. Make as many mistakes as possible today. I was joking but why not give it a try. You can’t learn without making mistakes so rather than avoid them why not try to have them? This seems very counterintuitive yet if you were to approach your day that way I am guessing you would jump into action – because how else would you up your mistake ante? Also I would guess that you are unlikely to make a lot of mistakes, but making that goal might make them seem a little less scary.
What’s the “right” place to start?
Another person was trying to figure out the “right” way to start doing more strategic work with her board. There were lots of reasons that the board was in an operational mode. Crises in the past had forced it to shift its focus to the day-to-day. With the crisis past it had not yet shifted gears. There were lots of possible ways to get started. But she was paralyzed with looking for the “right” one – the strategic one. Certainly there is value in being strategic for greater impact and efficiency. But searching for the perfect strategic action can also have the impact of not taking any action. My feedback to her – pick one and start as an experiment. See how it goes. It might not be the “right” one and if not, adjust and try something new.
Planning and experimenting
I love planning and love working with organizations to help them think through their future direction to help them be more strategic. At the same time, organizations trip themselves up when they fall into the trap of thinking that they can plan out everything in detail at the outset. You just do not know what of your plans will be a ‘mistake’ or a learning opportunity. The ‘mistake’ provides you the opportunity to shift gears and try something new. Try thinking of your plan as a series of experiments. This way you can hold the plan more lightly and be more open to learning. Identify a couple big goals to set your own or your organization’s direction. Plan in more detail for the first year of implementation, especially first actions. Then get started.
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I allowed myself to take a break yesterday. I had been traveling for a chunk of the week and felt weary. My body and mind were telling me I needed a pause. Yet our go go culture abhors the break. When you are at your job and you are not being super productive instead of encouraging people to listen to your body and take a break, most work cultures want you to power through. Or at least pretend you are busy.
Busy Bragging Rights
Powering through was what I have done most of my life. I’ve played the “I’m more busy than you” game. I remember the one-up manship as early as when I was in college. ‘Oh geez got a paper due tomorrow and I haven’t started.” “Oh you think that is bad – I have a paper due and a test tomorrow.” And it continues – the endless cycle of bragging who is more overwhelmed by work. Multiple articles and studies have been done recently on the idea that busyness is a new status symbol. “I am a very busy and important person – you have two minutes to make your pitch.” I spent much of my teens and twenties sleep deprived. I’m not interested in winning this game any more.
And today I just proved it doesn’t work anyway. After just 24 hours of a little rest and relaxation, I came back to my to do list fired up and moved through it with ease. I got more done today than I have in a while. And certainly more than if I had plodded through yesterday which would have spilled over into plodding through today.
We are not machines
A work ethic is critical. Yet lots of science is demonstrating that through our economy is made for machines – we have to remember we are actually NOT machines. In addition, much work today is now knowledge work that requires creativity and innovation. These require white space. They require all the things you were either told not to do growing up – day dreaming, for example. Or the things that weren’t necessarily valued - time away from work – play – time in nature. I don’t need to go to Arianna Huffington’s extreme of collapsing from exhaustion to agree with her assertion that our constantly busy ethic is killing us.
Is rest just to make you more productive?
At the same time, my argument is a little perverse – or at least still representative of our culture. My reason for a pause is to recharge to be able to get back to work and be more productive. I would call myself a recovering ‘productivity-a-holic.’ I can aspire to relaxing into taking a pause for the sake of taking a pause, rather than to just make me more productive later.
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