Thursday, November 5, 2015

What To Do When Your Best Isn't Good Enough

How To Be Successful In A World That Judges Your Outcomes

how to define success

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In a recent post I discussed the book The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

It got me thinking about what if you try your best but it's not good enough?

Well, it could be a problem of perception.

The Genius of 90%

Have you ever watched a movie that was great up until the ending?

The recent Mad Max comes to mind.

In it, the movie starts at the warlord Immortan Joe's fortress The Citadel, a cruel fortress that Immortan Joe has used to imprison survivors of the apocalypse. To control the survivors, Immortan Joe pumps water from the cliffs of The Citadel with much fanfare.

After his top warrior Imperator Furiosa helps 5 of the warlords'  herom escape, the warlord leads a war party across the wasteland to catch them with stunning cinematography and action.

It's one long car chase across the desert of Australia that thuds at the end.


For one, warlord Immortan Joe is killed about 80% into the movie.

Two, Mad Max and Furiosa return to the Citadel and the enslaved survivors know that they are now free. The water lines are opened once again to the cheering of the survivors as Mad Max disappears into the crowd.

Roll credits.

It just ends, there's no denouement.  It all ends too quickly and feels like the producer was limited by time, money, plot holes or all of the above. There's nothing that wraps the movie in a tidy way or reveals the futures of these survivors.

Judged by the ending, Mad Max: Fury Road sucks.  So why then is it so popular?

Because 90% of it is entertaining and visually stunning.

The End Justifies The Means - Or Not

So how do you define success then?  Mad Max: Fury Road is an awesome fete of cinema. Even with a quickly wrapped ending that falls flat.

We've all gone through it.  We've worked our tails off to prepare for success at something important only to fail.

You've spent hours developing an idea, going through all the necessary edits and cuts only to find out that in the end, it just wasn't good enough.

Sitting in your room at night spending hours writing a song that you're sure is the best thing you could do.

You wrote it specifically for one person in mind, that special someone.

They'll swoon with your melodies; their dreams are replays of your metaphors in their imagination.

You tell them it's unfinished but that they are the inspiration for it.

In your mind, you imagine how they'll act when you play it for them.

They'll fall in love with you (all over again).

And then you play it for them.

And their reaction is underwhelming.

"Um, that was good," they say.

"Can you play Taylor Swift?  Led Zeppelin?" they ask afterwards.

How do you react?

Are you the type of person that throws your hands up to the sky as if to say "what else can I do?"

Are you the type that allows the disappointment to consume you and paralyze you from ever taking a risk that success requires, from doing that task again?

Are you crestfallen?

Maybe.  Nobody would blame you for feeling that way.

But by spending the time to learn the chords and melodies, as well as memorize the lyrics, you're already a success.

By putting yourself out there, you're already a success.

The process has taught you things that are invaluable to how the song is received.

What if you're on a team, and you dream of winning a game, a championship, and you lose the final game you play.

Is the season a failure in your mind?

All those hours you've spent training and learning from your teammates and coaches.

All the time you've sacrificed for the team when you could have been with friends and family doing other things, is that wasted?

Yes and no.

It's true that the experience is wasted if you judge the outcome of the season as the only metric of success.

And most of the time the pressure felt immediately after the big loss is one of perception.  It's how we imagine our success is perceived by others. Friends, family, boyfriends, girlfriends, players from other teams - these are who we imagine we're being judged by.

But why do we allow the perception of others to dictate our concepts of success?

Why is it that the people who didn't engage in all the hours of dedication, of learning, sculpting and rehearsing are the ones we shy away from after we fall short of our goals?

Look, we all set goals.  Some we meet and with many we fall short.  Why let other people, especially ones not invested in the process, in the hours of work you dedicated to determine your opinion of your success.

Is it something you're taught?

The Failure Of Your Education

How Your Success Is Pre-Determined By Your Approach To Learning

Habit formation and definition of success
In school, the emphasis is often on studying for the tests.

Preparing on material that you'll be tested on rather than the comprehension of the material.

Studying and the last-minute cramming of all that material just before an exam is a short-term solution.  It's like a crash diet before a day at the beach.  It may help you fit into a new bathing suit but won't make a major difference in the long run.

We too often focus on the outcomes of what we do and not on how we prepare.  In school we focus on our grade on the exam versus the long term benefits of comprehension.  It's the opinion of others that matters, by way of our grade on the exam, rather than what we've gained in understanding.

While grades are an obviously important metric for reflection, for us to gain insight on how well we grasp the material, it shouldn't be the primary point.

The point of education should be in comprehension.

Instead, it should focus on the understanding of the material.

This is how real gains are made in knowledge, not in the rote memorization of dates and facts, but in the analysis of the information.

And when doing something of value we should have the same goal in mind.

In The Eye Of The Beholder A Rose Is Still A Rose

A painter shouldn't be judged by how well they recreate a lifelike image.

But they should be judged on the nuance of their respective skills.  How well do they mix textures, lighting and shades?  How is their grasp and analysis of the subject?

If we judged painters, writers, musicians and other creatives as we do athletes and students, we'd have a much less beautiful world.

So we shouldn't let others determine that the outcome justifies the means.

How we do something and what we learn along the way is 1000 times more valuable to our well-being than the outcome of one game or how one song is received.

So when you do your best, but it's not good enough, ask yourself how you're evaluating what's "good enough."

Success shouldn't be defined by other peoples judgments of your outcomes.  If you do your best and you fall short, it's still a success.

Trust yourself and trust your process.

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