It is customary, of course, at this time to reflect on the year that is nearly over, and to set some goals for the year approaching. Idon’t have my website established as yet so thought I would publish this blog on LinkedIn – my ponderings of the year past and the one that looms.
2014 has been eventful. Anything but average. Selling up and moving to the centre of Melbourne from Shellharbour NSW; starting my own consulting business after 17 years at Twyfords, and an amazing time in northern Italy (this included delivering a course to some fabulous community engagement practitioners in Florence – that’s a photo of the session in progress with a beautiful fresco on the far wall).
For me most of that happened between September and November. I don’t recommend doing three things of this magnitude all at the same time. I actually think I was in shock for several weeks when I first arrived in Melbourne. It was during this time that I was working on some fairly challenging projects, and despite not feeling at my best the outcomes from those projects were really pleasing. Which led me to reflect on some of the best work I have done as a consultant – that my best work is often done when I am feeling, sort of, average.
Those of us who like to think of ourselves as high-performing are often very self critical, and we are inclined to push ourselves. Sometimes that can get in the way of doing what we are naturally good at, being very present, and allowing other people to step up, and to shine. Upon doing some research I can across David Burns, the author of ‘Feeling Good’, and he has written very persuasively about this phenomenon.
Burns says ‘… we need to understand the role of fear in perfectionism: “If I don’t perfectly [fill in the blank] something terrible will happen.” Often perfectionists are so used to this anxiety that they no longer even consciously recognize it; it’s just the fuel that keeps them working, working, working and honing, honing, honing.” Great point! Just imagine how good we could be if we simply aimed at ‘average’! How much time we could create for ourselves pursuing other interests. How much more energy I would have to focus on assisting others (in my case, helping individuals and organisations to collaborate more effectively)!
The paradox is, of course, that as we just aim for average we are probably going to be more excellent. For those who work with a high level of complexity, being average is even more important. Dave Snowden, creator of the Cynefin framework for complexity, talks about doing ‘safe to fail’ experiments when in the complex domain, because there is no roadmap for success. Best-practice, even good-practice, does not really apply because no-one knows what is going to work. We need to try things, different approaches, then amplify what is working and dampen what is not.
This kind of experimenting is difficult for the perfectionist – for the experts that need to get things right the first time, and to be seen as getting it right. The mindset for experimenting is to attempt things, and to learn rapidly. It is easier to try things when it is ok to fail, provided we are generating some learning. It is also great for procrastinators, and I certainly can be. If we put things off because we believe we are not quite is the zone for a particular task, then we keep putting it off, making it harder and harder to attend to.
So for 2015, I aim to be more average. To try less hard. To relax a bit more and believe that I am plenty good enough to be useful to others – even when average. Somehow, I expect I will accomplish more, enjoy the year even more than 2014, and try some things I might have never before attempted. I think being average won’t be easy, and I must try not to be average perfectly! Yep – that could be a trap.
Now that I have figured that out I can enjoy the festive season and new year’s celebrations knowing that I have a focus and intent for 2015.
What about you?