My very first week in my very first coporate job, I was given a company t-shirt. It read, "Good enough is not enough."
As I looked out over Manhattan's lower Fifth Avenue from my office window, I felt something inside me go numb. Not enough? It had taken everything to land this job. The early 90s ad biz was nothing short of an elitist shark tank; slackers need not apply. After college, I had worked two jobs, attended night classes and survived on 99-cent tacos and modest scholarships to get through the artsy trade school that got me in the door as a copywriter. My classmates were chartreuse with envy. This was the "it" we all dreamed of. How could I already be starting at a deficit?
And so began the process of eagerly and fearfully trying to prove myself worthy. Working until 10 p.m. was the office norm. I knew every item on the takeout menu of the cafe next door. The first time I took a weekend off, my boss called and said, "We don't want to tell you to come in on the weekend...it's just understood." Time out was condensed into late night pints at the pub with co-workers. I was constantly getting sick. I tried telling myself these things were the badge of professional status and company pride. But I was miserable. Worse still, my creativity--the very thing for which I was hired--was waning.
What I didn't know back then was the distinction between action fueled by the anguish of divine discontent and that which is fueled by the virtue of imperfect action. When we drive ourselves by asserting that we are somehow insufficient, then no matter what we create, the goalposts are bound to move with it. Other signs that you may be caught in a feedback loop of "not enough" include:
- Postponing decisions out of fear that you have to "get it right"
- Puttering on tiny details of work projects so that you can feel a sense of accomplishment, but procrastinating on higher value assignments
- Deflecting compliments about your work ("It could have been better if I had more time...")
- Regularly foregoing exercise, sleep and time with loved ones for your work
I know, I know. You're saying, "But Beth, isn't it good to have high standards? I wouldn't have accomplished half of what I have if I hadn't pushed myself." Don't misunderstand me. High standards and initiative are beautiful things, but only so long as we treat them as a yardstick to inspire us onward, rather than to flog ourselves. This also happens to tie in with one of the greatest misconceptions about creativity: Our creative energy can be co-opted constructively, or destructively. The energy expended is the same, but the divergent impacts are enormous. Imperfect action simply means taking the next obvious step to keep the flow of momentum moving toward success, rather than creating the stress and anxiety of moving away from failure.
I'll be the first to cry, "Mea culpa!" With a reboot of a website that has been far too long in the making, it has been easy to get caught up in noodling ad nauseum at the expense of getting on with longer-term goals. But as Julia Cameron espoused in her classic work, "The Artist's Way," anything we work on that we truly care about will never really be done. At some point, however, we decide to let go and move on.
And therein lies an invitation to you. With this inaugural blog post, I hereby pronounce good enough IS enough. Join me, won't you? Drop a line in the comments below and let us know what imperfect action you will take in the name of moving toward success this year. I'll be rooting for you, every step of the way.