The Courage of “Imperfection”

We admire masters, famous athletes, and legendary musicians.

It is painfully easy to compare our worst to their best. Even easier to feel the futility of achieving similar feats.

When did LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, or Michael Jordan first demonstrate the courage to become NBA superstars? My bet: Long before their points added up on the scoreboard.

What enables them to push through the pain of constant failure that inevitably comes with their level of achievement? My bet: Courage.

As young children, we had unlimited determination. We tried everything courageously—walking, talking, creating, exploring. And the world around us typically applauded our efforts. Then the school-years hit, and suddenly it wasn’t okay to try and fail. We were measured and applauded for our successes, not for our efforts.

Those years of conditioning in school follow us into the workplace. We often stick to the safe places—areas that we’re good at and know we can succeed. That behaviour shields us from fear and vulnerability, but it also shields us from achieving our full potential.

To achieve what’s possible requires a return to childhood courage. We need to once again unabashedly create, explore, and risk to learn new things.

Most of us know the fear of pushing past our comfort zone to a higher potential only to feel like an impostor or fraud.

On a recent conference call, I was asked for my opinion by the Chief Executive. The call went silent. It was like I went into a slow-motion moment. The self-doubt was instantaneous:

  • Am I sure?
  • What if I’m wrong?
  • Shouldn’t I know more?

I forced myself out of freeze mode, stated my opinion, and waited. I remember physically flinching in fear (for what seemed like minutes) for her response. My insecurities started multiplying as I prepared to be criticized business-school style.

She finally broke the silence, “Very helpful insight, thank you.”

As these moments of doubt repeat themselves, I strive to embrace the challenge and push through with determination. My mantra has become, “embrace it till you make it.”

“Anything worth doing, is worth doing badly…at first.” Sound wisdom based on biology. Whether the new skill is riding a bike, speaking a language, or hitting a three-pointer, we need to get comfortable with the discomfort of imperfection.

Dan Coyle (Talent Code) observed:

Struggle isn’t an option, it’s a biological requirement.

As it was when we were small children, so it is now—without pushing beyond our comfort zones, we don’t grow. Comfort dominates at the sensitive margin where our skill and capability meet. Growth happens when we push beyond it. It takes a fierce resolution to be okay with making mistakes. Lots of mistakes.

Get up, take a few steps, fall, get up again… repeated again and again with the whole world watching. What could be more courageous than that?

Michael Jordan admits:

I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life.
And that is why I succeed.

Worry less about being imperfect or an imposter; worry more about becoming courageous in imperfection. Try taking a scary new action this week that requires you to “embrace it till you make it.”

 

 

 


Limitless

In the movie “Limitless”, Bradley Cooper plays an unmotivated deadbeat writer who becomes a Wall Street superstar…in a matter of days.  His secret?  A daily pill that unlocks the entire capability of his brain.

Within thirty seconds he begins to see new connections and remembers everything he’s ever heard or seen. (My favorite line, “Math actually became useful.”)

His downside?  The pill is killing him.  Not a perfect scenario, but an intriguing idea:  What if you had that power?

Here’s the good news: You are limitless.  The bad news:  A pill won’t do it.

The idea of a quick fix is sexy, but only the compounding consistency of craftsmanship will get you results.  And that will happen over time.

Anders Ericsson’s empirical research in Peak makes it clear:

 What sets experts apart from the rest of us is that their years of practice have changed the neural circuitry… which in turn make possible the incredible memory, pattern recognition, problem solving, and other sorts of advanced abilities.

These world-class capabilities are available to all of us.  We just need to realize the potential we already have.  One day at a time, over time.

Bill Gates makes an interesting observation:

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

Don’t short what you can accomplish. You don’t need a pill to be a prodigy, just a commitment to improvement. Craftsmanship can enable you to create a new window of limitless potential.

Open it wide.