Do you ever not do something for fear you’ll fail at it? You’ve probably heard the phrase that the perfect is the enemy of the good. You may also have noticed that people who achieve greatness don’t do things perfectly.
How do you become great if you don’t do everything perfectly?
Here’s a model I use to allow yourself to do something without worrying too much about failing — ironically, the best way to succeed. It’s one of my most important ones I think about almost daily. It fits with my practice of having low standards the first time. It also enables you to act on the perspective most successful people I know of realizing the importance of failing. (I also wrote about it before).
A model to allow yourself to fail, which gives you freedom to succeed: the karate master and his students
The scene is a martial arts class. A few students learning from a great master. The students ask the master how he never loses his balance.
He asks, surprised, “what do you mean?”
They say “You’re always on your feet. You never fall. How do you never lose your balance?”
He says, “On the contrary, I’m always losing my balance, but I’m always recovering.”
I love this line. It tells me I can fail. I just recover. As long as I keep recovering, I keep succeeding. When you do that, people on the outside see mastery.
I used to think you prepared to prevent mistakes by foreseeing and anticipating every problem. I wanted to avoid mistakes. Now I prepare mostly to have the presence of mind and skills to handle things I can’t foresee, not to try to avoid mistakes completely. I don’t think you can avoid problems. Nor do I see as much value in avoiding mistakes as I used to.
I value handling problems and solving them over avoiding them any day.
I wrote a few times about this model. Here’s the most comprehensive post on it. Briefly, the model is this: when you ski a slope, the path forks, and you can’t tell which path you’d enjoy
When I use this belief
I use this belief when I work on challenging projects. Instead of making perfection my goal, I try to make something good enough and recover from problems. That means sharing my result with others, soliciting their feedback and feedforward, and improving my results.
I use this belief when leading. I don’t try to be a perfect leader. I try to do the best I can, share my flaws, solicit feedback and feedforward, and try to improve all the time. I think people prefer a leader they know is as human as they are.
I use this belief in relationships, personal, professional, family, and all others. When someone tells me I don’t listen well enough, interrupt too much, or didn’t meet expectations in some other way, I don’t conclude I’ve failed. I have something to recover from.
This model helps me think about life overall. If you don’t mind my getting more philosophical, no result, however unwanted, completely defeats you. Every failure is just something else to recover from. Likewise no success means nirvana. Life has no ending point except death (sorry if you didn’t already know) and anything before then is just something to make the most of and keep going.
What these beliefs replace
This beliefs replaces the anxiety that you have to do something perfectly or you fail.
Where this belief leads
This belief leads to more actively participating in your activities since everything you do leads to something else. It liberates you from fear and anxiety.
This belief saves time because you don’t have to prepare so much. It saves energy because you don’t have to try to foresee every possible outcome.
It also leads other people to think you’ve mastered things, like those students thought of their teacher. When you face what other people consider failure and calmly move on to the next thing, people conclude you overcame what they couldn’t. They follow people like that.
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