Unexpected Learning

Several months ago, one of my colleagues posted an article into a shared space at work, the title of which was along the lines of “27 More Reasons You Suck.”

I have a love-hate relationship with articles that have numbers in the title. It feels like they are constantly raising the bar on all the things that you have to do to succeed. 5 Things Elon Musk Does Before Breakfast. 19 Books that Made Bill Gates Who He Is Today. The 1 Secret that Successful People Know.

10 More Reasons You Aren’t Good Enough and Should Be Doing More.

People talk about how social media makes you feel bad because people only post the best things about themselves and you are constantly comparing yourself to this edited version of other people and coming up short. I believe these articles are an insidious way of doing the same thing: the authors are telling you that someone has it dialed in, and you should do what they do instead of doing what you do.

Maybe it’s just the rebel in me coming out. I’ve never liked being told I have to do something. Don’t get me wrong, I’m teachable and very happy to watch someone tell me how to do something. And I can be seduced by the big picture and will happily follow the leader who inspires me to come along. But when a colleague at my old job slapped a copy of DaVinci Code down on my desk one day with the injunction that I had to read it because the company goal was to make it a bestseller, I calmly put it on the credenza behind me where it stayed uncracked, until I finally brought it home and gave it to my husband, who loved it so much he shared it with both sisters and his parents, who also loved it and talked about it to everyone they knew. So I guess I did my part. But I still haven’t read it. Or seen the movie. Because they told me I had to oh so many years before. (And because, from the Thanksgiving dinner conversation that year that my husband’s family read it, it sounded highly derivative.)

Most of the time, I am able to resist the siren call of these articles that want to tell me what to do. Every now and then I get sucked in and immediately regret it. But when a new colleague I value posted one in a shared space at work with his endorsement, I got sucked in again. The article was something like 27 Things a Successful Start Up Needs to Know. Being new to start ups, and wanting to see how his mind worked, I started reading. By question 7, I was getting restless. At question 9, I stopped.

The first 8 questions were immediately forgettable. Question 9 was a gem and I didn’t need to read any more.

Question 9 was something along the lines of, “If you make your product perfect before going to market, you’ll be too late.”

As a continually recovering perfectionist, this was a moment of enlightenment. I tend to work things to death because I am always thinking of ways to make things just a little bit better, just a little bit, just one more, wait just let me fix this…

At some point I got smart enough to train my team when to take things away from me. And once I learned to delegate, it got easier to learn to accept less than perfection. And I taught my team to set priorities: was this something that needed our best work or was this something that just needed to get done so we could get back to higher priorities? I made progress.

When I started my new job, my unacknowledged fears drove me to make things harder for myself make things as perfect as possible. I wanted my work to be flawless, impressive, and I worked it to death. Working from home, I had no one to tell me it was time and take my work away from me and I went all in. But #9 helped me see my work in a different light.

Now, as I start to build out a new, internal support department, I am telling my colleagues about #9 and then telling them not to expect perfection on the first pass because we need to produce these things now so they can begin using them now. But we’ll fix them iteratively based on their feedback and they can expect them to get better over time.

It’s a big step forward for me.

So thank you, almost unreadable article with way too many bullet points. You gave me something I could actually act on.

But I’m still not going to read these articles.

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