“What began to happen was that with each step I thought I was taking in the direction toward excellence, the less risk I wanted to take…”
I realize that what I’m about to say smacks in the face of just about every self-help, get motivated, blog or meme you’ve ever seen. But the longer I’m on this planet and with the hundreds of presentations, speeches, workshops, and classes I’ve produced over the years, I’ve always managed to pick apart my work and find something wrong even when my audience thought that I had knocked it out of the park. No matter how much time and effort I put into honing my craft, I never seem to be….excellent.
What began to happen was that with each step I thought I was taking in the direction toward excellence, the less risk I wanted to take and creative I dared to be because for years it had been drilled into my head that there was a formula for excellence and success. And any scientist will tell you that a formula consists of certain elements that are fixed meaning that they don’t change. So once I felt that I had at least some of the elements, I stuck to what I knew would work and kept maniacally working at fixing what I felt didn’t.
But when I started to examine my work through a different lens, what always gave me those butterflies and that certain excitement and feeling of real achievement was when I explored something different; when I went for the outlier instead of the obvious. And let me tell you that the process of chasing the outlier is messy. Why? Because it’s unfamiliar territory and most of the time I felt like I was bumbling my way through and slowly drifting away from the path that I thought that I had begun to carve out toward that destination called…excellence. And for someone who very much appreciates the presence of a tight plan, I had far more moments of frustration and bouts with feeling like I didn’t know what the hell I was doing than I felt comfortable with.
When I landed my first contract teaching a professional development training for a small private school, I remember that feeling even more vividly. I remember doing so much research on my subject and wracking my brain trying to find engaging activities for a diverse group of adults thinking that everything I had planned was too amateur. But when I finally walked out of that school to glowing reviews, I had such a sense of accomplishment that I never had with my typical presentations and workshops that I knew for sure went really well because I had done them so many times. And you know what else? For once, I hadn’t spent a lot of time tearing this new venture apart, searching for those elements of excellence. Were there things I could have done better? Sure. But instead of focusing only on those areas, I simply basked in the experience of having done something different; having triumphed over my desire to be comfortable and safe. And I suddenly became okay that it was less than excellent. So what did I learn from all of this?
Chasing the formula for excellence is not about you striving to reach an ideal. It’s about you pushing yourself beyond your comfort zones and creating something that has truly stretched you.