What skill do you want to improve?
When I was new to management, my first performance development meeting was with a therapist who was an experienced, capable person with no performance issues (yay for an easy start). She’d gotten feedback from others (all glowing), done self-reflection (accurate, if a bit hard on herself), and picked goals for the year ahead. One of her goals was improving her skills at presenting to groups. This isn’t a requirement of the job, but there are opportunities if someone’s interested. I chirped happily, “I didn’t realize you wanted to give presentations.” She shuddered and said, “Ugh, no – I don’t want to, I hate doing it.” We paused. I did my own self-reflection on my unpreparedness and fell back on the simplest magic lesson I know: Ask.
“So … why is this a goal then?” Well, she just knew she was bad at it so figured she should get better. I asked what she enjoyed most in her job, and she lit up talking about her work with new families, taking the time to help them understand their babies’ needs. But, she added, she didn’t need to work on that, she was already good at it. I shrugged and said I figured she’d be a lot more enthusiastic about improving in that area than in presentation skills. So we put together a plan to move from being good to excelling at working with new families and becoming our go-to person on the team for other therapists struggling in those situations. Our team thrived as we all put our energy into building on our strengths. Even in situations where a person had to improve something they didn’t like, in order to do their job adequately, we tried to find a part of it they loved so they could build on that. It wasn’t perfect, we’re all human, but it was sure happier – and more productive – than the alternative.
So. What do you enjoy doing, and want to do better?
Why do you want to improve?
“We might find what we do entirely meaningless, might hate or resent our job, yet still hitch our desire for approval and connection to how well we perform.” Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance.
We know that basing our self-worth on someone else’s approval is a no-win situation. When my self-improvement plan hits a stumbling block, fear of losing others’ respect will only motivate me to cut corners or exaggerate or lie to show myself in a better light. It will also be counterproductive to the sense of connection I was craving anyway. In The Gifts of Imperfection Brené Brown points out that fitting in, and seeking approval are actually barriers to belonging. Belonging is when we offer our most authentic selves and we’re embraced as we are.
Build up a skill you love because you feel a drive to do better. Share your goal and celebrate your work.
Doing vs Improving
We’ve heard that to master a skill, one has to spend 10,000 hours practicing it (I think it was Malcom Gladwell who said this). I’m not sure how scientific the concept is, but it can’t just be a bank account of time that you make deposits to and then withdraw mastery when you get to the magic number. If you want to truly improve at something, don’t just do more of it. Question how you’re doing it now and experiment with different ways. Get feedback, analyze yourself. Fail a few times, analyze some more. Bear the awkwardness and embarrassment as you grow and savour the sweetness when you hit a new level of skill.
You’re perfect as you are right now, with all your imperfections. There are times to sit in the forest, smelling the earth, listening to the birds, and soaking up dappled sunlight. Your heart will tell you when it’s time to climb the trees or name the birds or run the trails, and when it does, run with joy.