Acknowledging and accepting that we will miss the mark and often not perform at an optimal level.
How would you rank your experience with our product / service today?
I’m guessing that at least three surveys hit your inbox in the past week, each asking you to rank people, experiences, or goods. Businesses want ratings on their products and services as they seek to understand how they are doing in comparison to the ideal.
The world recognizes and rewards excellence. Mostly, this is a really good thing. We are drawn to hearing, watching, and reading about greatness. There is a lot of professional content dedicated to ‘Top 10’ lists. Much of social media — particularly Instagram and Facebook — is user-generated content spotlighting ‘near perfect’ personal experiences. Longer form interviews/podcasts, articles, and books cover people who are labeled as “the best” or “world class” in a particular endeavor. (I do realize that all this content is highly curated, even staged, and an incomplete look into the lives of people.)
It is human nature to compare people, goods and experiences to other ‘similar’ items and rank order them.
The reality is that everything can’t be excellent, or even above average.
This law of mathematics applies to people as well. To all of us — you and me.
We do a lot of different things in our daily lives — some which we have to, and others which we choose to. Were we to step back and evaluate ourselves through an unbiased lens, there would be a number of areas where we don’t measure up anywhere close to the ideal of “above average” or “excellent.”
So how can we acknowledge and accept our weaknesses and imperfections while still managing to live mostly happily?
While I don’t have the one answer, here are ways I find myself addressing this challenge (some of which are healthier responses than others):
- Self Disqualify / Consciously Opt-Out: This approach gets easier with age. While I was tempted to poorly navigate the ‘double black diamond’ ski run 10 or 15 years ago to keep up with the group, today I am fine with meeting the others back at the chair lift. One of the easiest things is to stop doing what we consider ourselves bad at, and double down in the areas where we excel. I have to remind myself to keep trying things I don’t do well, particularly when they are meaningful to the important people in my life.
- Don’t Do It / Ignore: Extended procrastination falls into this category. For people-pleasers like me, this can be a common response. Because we easily fall into the trap of saying ‘yes’ even to things we can’t do or don’t have the time to do.
- Outsource / Delegate: In an ideal world, we recognize both the strengths of others and our own dislikes or weaknesses. So we are able to ‘hire’ others to do jobs we dislike or we perform poorly. While this requires having money (when it comes to chores around the house), in the workplace, this is the sign of a good manager who can identify talent, trust people, and ensure they are spending their time on their highest value tasks.
- Hire Coaches / Trainers: Many of us might do this when it comes to personal fitness, nutrition, and meditation. Therapy falls into this category. The key is finding the ‘right’ coach or trainer for your personality type. For me, that means a balance of empathy, calling out my poor habits, and offering challenging, achievable motivation.
- Teach Yourself: With multiple YouTube videos available on almost every topic imaginable, we can consume a lot of content to help us improve at almost any task. The question I ask myself is whether it is worth self-teaching or whether I ought to outsource.
- Talk Openly about your ‘Weaknesses’: When I have a lot of self-confidence or have accepted my ‘weakness,’ I find myself leading with self-disclosure. This helps short circuit any evaluation process, whether in a job interview or a dating situation. It can be quite freeing to not try to hide or avoid talking about weaknesses.
- Ask for Help: Sounds simple and easy, but often is hard. The stereotype of men who never ask for directions when they are lost has a lot of truth to it. Asking for help requires being comfortable with acknowledging a weakness or a mistake.
- Accept Below Average Performance: Even the best laid plans go awry. So sometimes we make a plan, execute against it, and things don’t turn out well. It could be because of a mistake we made, the vagaries of the universe, or some combination of both.
Having high expectations is both a great motivator and a potential trap. While striving for the best I can be on a regular basis, my challenge remains finding the grace to accept my humanity and accepting (with too much self-criticism) that I will not perform at a high level at all times.
I find Stoic philosophy has comforting and wise words to offer. This quote from Epictetus captures this lesson of acceptance perfectly.
“Don’t seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will
—then your life will flow well.”
I wish best of luck to all of us in managing our desire for excellence with the reality of being human, and having too many things on our metaphorical plates.