Our lives, our hobbies, our careers, and everything else is made up of daily steps towards outcomes.
If you’re anything like me, it can be frustrating to put in hours, days, or even weeks only to fall short of your imagined outcome. Somehow, somewhere along the way we take a slightly different turn here, or have to adjust something there which causes a deviation from our dreamed goal.
As I’ve pondered these experiences, the common thread that affects these outcomes we desire and therefore causes deviations is one simple thing:
Too often we set our sights on a long-term outcome at the time when we have the least amount of information or data – at the time when we are the most ignorant. We don’t know what we don’t know, and we fool ourselves into thinking that we can, with the right effort or the right metrics, know all the things at the beginning that might affect our outcomes.
And then when things deviate, by small or large amounts, we are disappointed.
Projects are scrutinized for failure points. Individual effort is questioned. Teams, and ourselves, can become demoralized.
Let me be clear – retrospectives are an extremely effective and necessary tool to enable our growth and progression, but only when we acknowledge what is and is not in our control or influence.
Embracing Uncertainty, and Outcomes
So how to we embrace uncertainty, and the outcomes that are realized after all of our hard work? Well, first we don’t try to eat the whole cake in a single bite. Small, incremental pieces (or bites) are more easily taken on and completed.
Secondly, with regular checkpoints and reviews we can measure our progress towards our intended goals, and realign either our actions, or our expectations, based on the realities of what is happening.
For example, it took me way longer to buckle down and focus on my education than I care to admit. Somewhere along the way, the opportunity to uproot my small family and move halfway across the globe to Beijing to join a startup kept coming to me. It was a scary proposition, and I was both focused (finally) on getting through school and keeping my goals in sight that I kept dismissing it entirely.
Eventually, my wife and I took some time to reflect on our goals, the opportunity, and what direction we should take. With my oldest son only two years old at the time, there was a lot to be scared about and uncertainty was certainly a big player in those discussions.
We took the chance.
Selling nearly everything we owned, we packed up what we could fit in a few suitcases and, leaving some other valuables with family, hopped a plane towards a new adventure.
That year was one of the hardest of my life, but I grew and learned more with that experience than I would have otherwise, and it paved the way towards my current career with a top software company.
It taught me to take risks, to step into the unknown, and to navigate experiences to accept what is and is not within my control.
Lives, careers, families, education, etc. are not linear A to B experiences. They are messy – a mountain road with ups and downs, twists and turns.
Perfect is rarely achievable. Variables abound, events happen that nobody would have taken odds to Vegas on, and we are not perfect as people. If we hold out for perfection, we often will never be satisfied and accepting of our successes as they happen.
We are constantly chasing a carrot that is suspended just beyond our reach.
That doesn’t mean that we accept mediocre results and never do our best, rather it means that we push for the best outcome possible while accepting what happens, as it happens.
It means that we don’t spend months planning for every contingency, only to have spent more time “dotting i’s” than we would have producing something of value. I have seen projects that spent months in planning and discovery, only to be abandoned at the end. Subsequent initiatives to do the same work started over and produced a deliverable piece of work in half the time, and follow-up efforts massaged it into something more like what the original goals were.
Sometimes good enough is good enough. Polishing can come after the fact and is usually a continual process.