Most of us want to be good at what we do. We want to be exceptional. Figuring out what it takes to get there is tough. We need to know what excellence looks like, we need a realistic assessment of where we are and we need insight into how to keep moving forward in a way that supports continued growth. The challenge is that most of our formative learning periods have specific stages and outcomes that signal when we have arrived. The journey to excellence is a little bit more circuitous.
I seem to have a bit of a thing for metaphors lately. Particularly metaphors of exploration. This week, I found myself challenged in ways that I haven’t been previously on several fronts that I currently lack sufficient expertise. Any one challenge might have been daunting. Encountering all of them at once was downright intimidating. That put me in mind of a movie that I once loved. In that, I began to find some answers.
Our notes and systems are how we make sense of the world, of ourselves and of our work. For the most part, my note-taking and information retrieval has lurched from project to project. My method of writing has focused on what I need to produce now. I have a method—or at least a notion of an approach—that works for me, despite largely being internal, abstract and fuzzy. Once I know what I am doing, I can usually get it done, and done well. Until then, precious little of value is likely to be produced. I’m coming to terms with the fact that regardless of my track record to date, this might not be the most efficient way of getting things done.
We are told that failure is an essential part of growth. It is something that we need to accept. If we are not failing often enough and hard enough, then we aren’t making progress. While it is wonderful to be able to make that argument intellectually, it is another thing entirely to respond to it personally. Our obsession with the negative isn’t about embracing failure; it’s about avoiding it. Perfectionism doesn’t reflect an obsession with excellence so much as an intolerance for mistakes. Our brains actively work to avoid situations where there is the possibility of failure, and discourages taking action that might result in pain. Actually embracing failure is directly contrary to that outcome, which means that we’ve got our work cut out for us.
Personal growth and development is not a cakewalk. Whether you have chosen the path—or had it inflicted upon you—embarking on change is complicated, stressful, angst-ridden and uncomfortable. It is the liminal journey come to life, although it doesn’t make it any easier to accept or process. For all the theoretical merits of changing, you are going to feel adrift, challenged and very likely incompetent. The desire to retreat to a safe and familiar place is going to be tempting. Nonetheless, there are strategies to make it through to the other side.
Your approach and appetite for learning says a great deal about who you are and how you approach your work and your life. We often view success as being defined by accomplishment—work done, status attained and accomplishment realized. In reality, much of satisfaction comes from actually doing the work, immersing yourself in experiences and challenges and formulating ways to realize accomplishment. Nowhere is this more true than in situations where success requires learning and growth.