Give Me a Break

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I’m not perfect. … For anyone who knows me, this will NOT be a surprise. I get angry, frustrated, and make mistakes. There are times I fall short of the goal I’ve set (or others have set for me). At times, even when I achieve a “perfect” score, I hurt someone along the way. Perhaps I fail to recognize their efforts. Or understate their contribution. Sometimes my mistakes are by commission. Sometimes by omission. There are times I’m well aware of my short-comings and other times I’m completely oblivious. I’m not perfect.

Just this week, I’ve had reminders that I’m not a perfect husband, father, or executive. I make mistakes. One reason I’m aware of these reminders is that I’m relatively self-aware and open to feedback from others. Occasionally someone tells me of a failure directly. Other times the feedback comes indirectly.

Failures come in many shapes in sizes. Some are big. Some are small. Some are clearly mistakes from the outset. Other failures take a while to materialize. Yet other failures are situational. For example, subjective or qualitative performance is generally situational. My performance might be regarded as perfect by one, yet imperfect by another. Think about sporting events that are “graded” such as figure-skating. One judge can give 10s (a perfect score), while another judge gives the same performance an 8 or 9.

Let me state again that if you know me, you know I’m not perfect. My wife and kids know this. My parents know this. My co-workers and colleagues know this. My subordinates know this. … Even I know this. So, here’s the deal. Give me a break. Give yourself one too. And while you’re at it, give others around you as break as well.

A couple years ago I had the privilege to go on a trip to Kenya. On our last day, after working all week on a variety of projects, we were staying at an outdoor camp and told to get up early if we wanted to see an amazing sunrise. I have to admit that generally, being more of a night owl, I would prefer to see a gorgeous sunset than sunrise. Nonetheless, I got up early, grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down with my Bible and camera – in the dark! Soon, the sky lit up. I mean really lit up! I can’t even begin to describe the colors and the brilliance. It took my breath away. The sunrise that morning seemed perfect. Who knows, maybe it was perfect.

But the thought that came to me that morning was, “don’t worry about being perfect. Give yourself a break. And others.”

Now, I’m not saying that I’m perfect at giving myself a break. In fact, I’m still too hard on myself occasionally. I’m still too hard on others. But I’m trying. Give me a break. Give yourself and others one as well. And recognize that you won’t be perfect at giving yourself and others breaks. Give yourself a break about giving yourself a break. Sounds like a computer programming “do loop” (if you don’t know what that means don’t worry and consider yourself fortunate; or google it).

Yes, set high goals. Shoot for the top. Work hard. Have high expectations. AND, realize that you are NOT perfect. Nor are others. Give yourself and them a break.

One final word. If someone has let you down, disappointed you and demonstrated their imperfection, you have a few choices. Forgive them and move on. Keep it to yourself and let it fester. Beat them up, in a matter of speaking. Talk with them in a civilized and professional manner to clear up the issue.

One of my biggest frustrations in life is finding out that someone is upset with me (or something I’ve done) and I don’t even know it. How can I explain, make amends, or improve if I’m not aware of my offense? … At the same time, that’s a reminder to make myself approachable. To make myself open to feedback. To make improvement based on the feedback. To avoid defensive behavior. I never said being a world-class leader was easy!

So, give yourself, others and me a break. Set high goals, make progress, target excellence, but don’t expect true perfection from people – yourself or others. Forgive easily. Develop the skill of confronting in love when necessary. Learn from your mistakes.

Are you overly hard on yourself? Others? Are you willing to forgive? To recognize and celebrate improvement along the journey? Or are you waiting to celebrate and give praise until perfection is attained?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

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