“When perfectionism is driving us, shame is riding shotgun and fear is that annoying backseat driver!”
Like many other people, I spent part of the festive season baking sweet treats in my kitchen. One of the best things about baking, is that I sometimes get together with friends to share the work. Recently, I had the opportunity to bake with an artist friend of mine.
For those of you who don’t know me very well, I bake like most people work on prize winning science experiments. Measurement is IMPORTANT in my world, and instructions are to be followed at all times. Within minutes of starting our recipe, it became clear that at least one of us saw the measures and instructions as rough guides – suggestions more than real rules. We had all sorts of fun with our differences, and eventually got together what appeared to be a successful cake. Only during the cleanup did we realize that my friend had been using a half cup measure thinking it was a full cup!
At the writing of this, I have no idea how that cake tasted, but I do know one thing: My friends response to the measuring error? “Well, if it’s awful we throw it away and try again.” My usual response to failed baking is much less serene and accepting, to say the least.
It strikes me that my friend sees the outcome as part of a process, one that leads to learning and gradual improvement over time. It is rooted in the belief that things are worth trying, even without any guarantee of a specific outcome, that every outcome, is the right outcome, and that failure is simply a part of creating. My approach is rooted in the outcome. If I follow the steps meticulously, I will have a predictable outcome. I will predictably make something that has been made before. I am less likely to fail.
I can see that there is room in this world for both approaches. In my medical career, reliably getting to the same, predictable and safe outcome is very, very important. Patient safety depends on it. In some of the projects I lead, an outcome can be hard to define. We start with a defined problem to solve, without clear knowledge of what an exact solution might be. In these roles, the willingness to let go of the rules and to challenge how things are done creates the opportunity for improvement.
I know that there are times when I stick to rules to create the illusion of safety. These same rules can limit my imagination and constrain the courage of my next action. Sticking rigidly to them are almost always aimed at protecting me from failure, to achieve perfection, or to maintain control over as much as possible. I can see that there are opportunities for me to challenge myself to let go of the rules to reach outcomes that I couldn’t even imagine. In fact, the only way that I will reach new heights in my career, relationships, work or leadership, is if I am willing to let go of the recipe.
I wonder where in your world you have rules that you might want to let go of? Which recipes are you following? How well do they serve you?
Wishing you a holiday season and new year filled with new ways of doing what brings you joy!