Focus on Competence: Strive for Excellence Not Perfection
Kathy (my client, not her real name) had an all-or-nothing attitude that was keeping her frustrated and angry. She thought in terms of extremes, in black and white. If she didn’t accomplish something perfectly, she viewed herself as a failure. And if others didn’t live up to her expectations, it was a relationship-breaker. Do you know someone like Kathy? Can you relate? It took a lot of work for her to grasp the pure magic that results when you strive for excellence not perfection.
This binary way of thinking doesn’t take into consideration the varying shades of gray that exist in life. Does embracing shades of gray feel like a cop out to you? Like you’re being wishy washy? That’s not at all the case! We have only to look at the natural world around us to see that shades of gray are fundamental to seeing the whole, true picture. After all, how much can you see when it’s pitch black outside?
Interestingly, Starbucks figured out that we are made more comfortable by incorporating shades of gray, as well as embracing “imperfections”. At one point their logo had an image of a Siren with a perfectly symmetrical face; it’s left side was exactly like the right side. But they, and their customers, felt it made her look creepy and robotic. Only when they added shades of gray, did it humanize her. This illustrates so well the beauty we bring to our lives when we nurture the best version of ourselves, when we strive for excellence not perfection.
That’s what shades of gray do for us…they humanize us. Perfectionism dehumanizes us, since it is unattainable. In fact, perfectionism is one of the largest contributors to our negative self-talk and failed or strained relationships. We hold ourselves and others to unreasonable and impossible standards.
Are you holding onto the idea that if you can’t do it perfectly, then there’s no sense in even trying? You’re not alone. Somewhere along life’s journey many of us bought into the idea that never failing is good. However, this thinking robs us of satisfaction and self-respect when we overcome obstacles and accomplish our goals.
Think of it this way — perfection is like a digital clock. Every minute the numbers display the time. It’s either on or off. Those are the only two choices. It’s very rigid thinking. If you achieve your goal in just the right way, you’re a success. If your work doesn’t measure up perfectly, you feel like a failure.
However, competence, when we strive for excellence not perfection, is like an analog clock with its minute and hour hands continually changing to adjust to each moment in time. You have a goal and you know that each step brings you closer to where you need to be. And along the way, you allow yourself the freedom to discover that your original goal may not be what you need or want after all.
When you focus on being perfect, you’re less likely to allow for mistakes. Mistakes are necessary in the learning process to achieve competence in any field. To understand competency more fully, let’s break it down into its five stages.
The five stages of competence are:
- Unconscious Incompetence – Unaware
- Conscious Incompetence – Novice
- Conscious Competence – Technician
- Unconscious Competence – Artist
- Reflective Competence – Master
To illustrate these stages of competency, let’s think about something with which we’re all familiar…learning to drive a car.
Stage 1 Unaware: As a child, you know the car will get you to the ice cream parlor, but you don’t care how it works.
Stage 2 Novice: When you’re ten years old, your best friend dares you to drive the car, and you run it down the driveway into the neighbor’s mailbox.
Stage 3 Technician: In high school, you take Driver’s Education and you learn how to drive slowly and methodically.
Stage 4 Artist: As an adult, you can drive anywhere and can instinctively respond to deer in the road, rainy conditions, or cars swerving into your lane on the freeway.
Stage 5 Master: You become a racecar driver and can confidently maneuver around any track, even through complicated obstacles, at incredible speeds.
Stages 3 and 4 are the most challenging and frustrating. This is where people begin doubting themselves, losing faith in their abilities. They start thinking they’re not good enough. The inner critic is very active at this stage.
The trick is to stay focused on the task at hand by maintaining this attitude: “If I practice deliberately and methodically, I will become better and better. It just takes time and patience.” You can achieve this mindset much more readily when you practice mindfulness daily.
In order to develop a higher level of competence in any area of your personal and professional life, these skills are vital:
- Big-picture thinking balanced with small, progressive steps
- Deliberate practice
- Positive expectation
It brings us delight and joy to see how we attain our dreams. After all, we are all works in progress. Are there areas in your life that you’d like to improve? When I began my journey to living my fullest life, I started paying attention to the processes and systems that created the greatest impact in my life. Now I’m forming them into a road map for Stepping Forward, an upcoming program that you’ll be able to use to create a full and rich life for yourself. You can download an Introduction to The Stepping Forward Program. I invite you to get your sneak peek today!