I have previously written on the subject of achieving good enough vs. perfection. It was something on my mind for some time, and interesting to me is that since putting it in writing, my thoughts on the subject have continued to grow.
Funny how the mind works.
As I contemplate achieving results that are good enough, and that then lend themselves to stepping stones towards something closer to perfection, it became obvious to me that we can risk an even more dangerous outcome than chasing unachievable perfection – settling for mediocrity.
There are several reasons why this path can be quite insidious to personal growth:
First of all, mediocrity kills growth.
It destroys long term goals.
It breeds complacency.
Just as being overwhelmed by perceived lack of immediate progress towards “perfect” (note that I don’t believe perfection is always achievable, but should remain our overall target), continual settling for mediocre can overwhelm us with a feeling of helplessness.
“Why try for anything better – life is what it is.”
“I didn’t get that promotion or new position – it is probably better since this is all that I am good at.”
So how do we throw off the security blanket, step outside of our comfort zone, and push towards continual progression?
First, what is your personal strategy?
What do you want to be different a year from now?
A month from now?
If you start off by saying “everything”, stop that line of thinking, and pick one single actionable goal.
Perhaps you want to lose weight, exercise more, eat better, get a degree, get a GED….anything that is singular in nature and achievable.
There is no pot big enough to boil the ocean. You have to bite off one thing that becomes your goal. Something that is going to move the bar in your life just a step higher than where you are right now. One thing that has intrinsic value and will build your self worth (or worth to your family, your business, etc.)
Second, evaluate the size of the goal. Is it something that you can check the box on in a couple of weeks? A couple of months? Four years?
That “bigness” will determine your next steps, though they are similar regardless of size. Remember the size of pots available to boil the ocean?
The further something out is, the more interim goals that you need to make in order to maintain momentum and ultimately achieve. If something is too far out, and that is the only goal on paper that you’ve got your sights on, then you will quickly burn out at your perceived lack of progress and mediocrity takes over if you don’t have intermediate goals to achieve along the way.
You’ll stay where you are.
This is what metrics are – a way to show that progress is being made and what is impeding that progress – though metrics will be a topic for another post sometime.
For example, let’s take the goal of getting a drivers license. My oldest son just went through this exercise though not entirely to this script.
Goal: Becoming a licensed driver (as a teen)
- Decide on what you WILL do to achieve the goal, and just as important what you WILL NOT do
- Schedule the practical coursework with the Driving Instructor ahead of time – don’t wait. Put it on your calendar, tape a sign on your wall with the date and time, make it visible
- Set the end date goal – again, put it somewhere visible (this is super important and you should see it every day)
- Take Drivers Ed coursework – set each class as an individual goal to obtain and set a reward for yourself (something small – a candybar or something)
- Put in the requisite hours of driving with parents or adult drivers – again, break this down into chunks with rewards at the end of each chunk (i.e. will do = x number of hours a week, will not do = allow a week to go by without having put in any time behind the wheel)
- Take your driving test at the DMV test site
- With your newly minted license, send mom and dad home in an Uber while you drive yourself, well, anywhere
So what, in the above, would constitute mediocrity, good enough, and perfection?
Well, perfect means that you did everything on time, without fail, never procrastinating or putting off until tomorrow, and ultimately being a licensed driver exactly on schedule. That assumes no illnesses, no bad weather, nothing out of your control impacting those goals and dates. Not always realistic, but possible.
Good enough would be similar, but perhaps you missed a class or didn’t get all your hours done in one or more weeks that pushes out your test date. Maybe you live somewhere cold and a blizzard made conditions hazardous. Anything can and will happen, so this might be the more likely scenario for some. Again, you achieved your overall goals even with some minor setbacks.
Mediocrity would be multiple scenarios come up, and really you’re just tired and would rather be doing something else, so Uber (or mom and dad) continues to make a lot of money ferrying you back and forth from work. In this scenario your personal costs remain high, as you miss out on the ability to get anywhere you want to go at any time you want to go there, not to mention the Uber costs. Your reward remains low as you’ve not achieved your goal, and the impact to self-confidence and personal progression remains medium to high (depending on how badly you wanted the outcome).
This is applicable to anything in our lives, personal or professional, that we want to push towards the next step.
A strategy for success includes what we will and won’t do, personal rewards that are meaningful along the way at short, incremental checkpoints, and a willingness to accept an outcome that is short of perfection but doesn’t deviate from the overall goal.
In business we forecast revenue potential, competitive advantages, customer impact and adoption, and other metrics as we build out our roadmaps and strategies. There are tailwinds that we can ride, and headwinds that we have to overcome.
But willingness to bend and adapt to uncertainty while keeping an eye on the overall goal ensures that we can navigate the road we’re on without pulling over and turning around. Even if we have to adjust our goal such as driving to Boulder instead of Denver due to road conditions, we have moved ourselves much closer to where we intended to be instead of going back home.
Instead of settling for mediocrity.