I don’t know about you, but the most important things I learn in life need constant reinforcement. This week’s been a great opportunity to relearn two key lessons that seem universal enough to warrant sharing with you.
1. The people you perceive as successful often perceive themselves quite differently. (Ergo: Don’t envy their “success.” Or, as my friend Kristin says, “Don’t spend anyone else’s money,” which means, simply, don’t make assumptions about others. Live your own life.)
Case in point: Earlier this week, I was assigned a newsy profile piece about a New York City chef who, in my perception (and in the perception of many other people) is quite successful. She has the kind of set-up and support that many chefs (including my husband) would love to have, and despite a recent setback because of Hurricane Sandy, she is poised to make an incredible comeback because she has received the rallying support of some of the most “important” names in her corner of the food world. She’s also received a good bit of media coverage. She’s published books with reputable presses and, from the outside at least, appears to be in a good place.
I was completely floored, then, when she told me, in response to my interview questions, that she feels incredibly lonely.
This was such an important reminder to me: the people we perceive as “successful,” or who have the kind of access and support we’d love to have, often perceive themselves in a very different way. She’s certainly not the only example of people I’ve perceived as “having it all” who have confided that they actually feel stressed/lonely/sad/like something’s missing. I’ve met many people, from “top” travel bloggers to celebrities, who outwardly project success and inwardly feel small and short of the mark. It’s not really important whether their self-perceptions are congruent with reality. Instead, I think, it speaks volumes about the definitions and dynamics of “success,” and serves as a reminder of just how important it is to focus on our own paths rather than the apparent success of someone else.
2. The fear of mediocrity holds Type-A perfectionists back.
Case in point: I went to an event this week where a documentary was screened. The subject was interesting, but creatively and technically, I thought the film was mediocre. “I could have done that,” I thought to myself, much like casual viewers of contemporary art say, “Well, I could have painted that.
Yes, I could have, and yes, you could have.
But we didn’t.
I realized that so often I don’t pursue a project because I know I can’t do it perfectly, either because I lack the skills or the resources, or both. And because I don’t want to produce mediocre work, I just leave the idea in that phase: the idea. In a way, this is ok; I don’t lack ideas and projects in active development. But in another way, I realized, I don’t need to leave some of those interesting ideas languishing in one of my notebooks just because I think I can’t execute it perfectly. Many people are producing work that’s less impressive than what I’m capable of (or what you’re capable of). And they’re using that mediocre work to carry them to the next step on their path.
To be clear: this isn’t a decision on my part to embrace mediocrity. Instead, it’s a decision to be more open to working on projects that I might not knock out of the park on the first try, and to say, instead, that I’ll just do the best I can, with the resources, skills, and passion I have.
How about you? What lessons do you learn over and over again, and how have they been reinforced for you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.