Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Dare to Be Adequate

Dare to be adequate.

It's an interesting concept to wrap one's mind around, isn't it?  Especially when one's mind tends to stray into perfectionistic tendencies like mine does.

Today I attended a workshop where the speaker, fundraising trainer and consultant Kim Klein, gave us permission to do just that. Kim's point was that as busy nonprofit professionals in an increasingly competitive environment where we're frequently being asked and expected to do more with less, we need to know what aspects of our work is worth giving extra scrutiny to and what areas where being adequate will be just fine.

Things like being OK with not re-doing your entire newsletter because of a typo in one article.  Not trashing reams of paper because a batch of letters has the slightest imperceptible smudge.

Been there, done that, many a time.

Admittedly, I have a hard time with the concept of daring to be adequate.  A really hard time.  I'm getting better, but it is still very much of an ingrained mentality, almost like it is part of my DNA or something.  And in some ways, it is.

My Dad was a mechanical engineer, someone who spent his days drafting precise blueprints and drawings of the exact dimensions of plumbing structures that would one day be located in some of Philadelphia's largest museums and schools.  There was no room for mistakes in his work, and that carried over into our homework assignments - the dioramas, the posterboard displays - that we sought his assistance with. 

I found myself practically channeling my father's spirit the other night while helping Boo with his homework.  You see, Boo's teacher doesn't believe in the concept of erasing - as in, the activity one does with the tip of a pencil when one makes a mistake.  Instead, they're instructed to cross out their words, their sentences, whatever went awry, all in the interest of saving time. 

This horrifies me.  (OK, yes, I know there are real substantial issues and situations that should warrant my indignation, but it's true.)

This flies in the face of everything I've ever been taught, everything that my formative years spent as a student in one of Pennsylvania's most competitive school districts shaped my mind into.  And yes, I've felt strongly enough about this Anti-Erasing Campaign by Boo's teacher that I've brought it up during parent-teacher conferences.

"Your work is a reflection on you," I emphasized to Boo the other night, launching into a monologue about how people perceive sloppy work and having pride in your work that probably went over Boo's 8 year old head. I swear I could hear my father applauding from The Great Beyond.

We see this in the blogging world, too, don't we?  We look at other people's blogs - their posts, their designs, their photos, their followers (boy, do we look at their followers!) - and we feel this pressure inside, this little voice, that tells us that we don't measure up.  That we can't and won't possibly ever measure up, that our words aren't going to be the ones that are going to be retweeted to the twitterverse, that our witty post isn't going to be the one going viral, that our photo isn't going to make it onto screensavers everywhere. 

I've fallen victim to this perfectionistic mentality more times than I care to admit.  I've gone back to edit blog posts.  I have over a hundred posts in Drafts as I type - and why?  Because they're not good enough.  They're not quite ready for prime time.  But does that mean that they should be scrapped altogether?  Maybe, in some cases - but in others, probably not. 

Maybe it's OK to have the occasional adequate post, instead of self-imposed pressure to make every post Pulitzer-worthy.

I still believe that our work is a reflection of ourselves, that quality matters, that we should strive for excellence. I probably always will believe that, because that's how I'm hard-wired. But perhaps there are times when we need to allow ourselves to be a little bit human while we're striving to be the best and the brightest.

I'm not giving up my erasers, not by a long shot. But I'm betting the world will still keep on turning if I occasionally allow myself to cross out.

Photo taken by me during a trip to a make-your-own pottery place with Betty's Girl Scout troop.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Susan said...

Amen! I agree, I'm hard wired that way too. But it's so refreshing to just be yourself and to let some of it go. I love you, Melissa, just the way you are...flaws and all! :-)

avisannschild said...

Oh my goodness, I love this post! I suffer from perfectionism too, and it can be such a self-defeating and debilitating dis-ease! (I'm also horrified by the Anti-Erasing Campaign.) Surely there's a happy medium between the two extremes...