The other day a man stopped by our studio to find out about what we do and how he and his wife could take dance lessons. Our conversation was alright. I covered everything he needed to know, but when he left, I felt disappointed in myself. I knew in my gut I hadn’t done a very good job presenting our product. If it were me, I wouldn’t have been impressed.
I assumed he wouldn’t be back. But given the same opportunity, I wanted to sound more professional, more organized, more in control. I wouldn’t want to be wearing only my socks. I made up my mind that although I’d managed to engage with the man, my elevator pitch needed some serious tweaking.
Sometimes, it’s easy to see failure as something we can’t do anything about. It’s rare to get excited about a flubbed opportunity – to see it as guidepost for positive change. I don’t like to fail or admit defeat. But what I dislike more is repeated failure in the same situation. So for me, taking the opportunity to tweak things in my favor seemed preferable, even if it meant facing my failure head on. If you’re at all like me, facing your mistakes is a tough thing to do, but here’s how I’ve learned to approach it:
Analyze – This can be the hardest part if you hate to admit you’re wrong. However, analyzing how we performed in any given situation can help us pinpoint what needs to change. When we identify the particulars of how things went wrong, we can put our energy into making change exactly where it’s needed. If we don’t look at the situation objectively, we’ll spend a lot of senseless energy feeling bad about it and miss the opportunity for future success.
Own it all – Keep the focus only on you and how you acted (or didn’t). This is especially important in relationships because you can only bring about change in others when you change yourself and that is what we are after here – full scale improvement of ourselves. In the end, we can’t get away from our own behavior, so we need to make that our priority.
Invite Feedback – Ask someone knowledgeable about how they would do things if they were in your shoes. Try not to offer too many details about how you handled it. Wait to see where your analysis and theirs cross paths. A second opinion keeps you honest about your actions and also prevents the perfectionists among us from being too hard on ourselves.
Make a Plan – With your new information, make a written plan of how to approach the same situation if you’re given a second chance. (Hint: we almost always get a second chance.) If it’s possible, come up with a script for how you’d like to see things happen. There’s nothing wrong with scripting a situation – it’s just another way to visualize a positive outcome. However, don’t use the word-for-word script – it might seem fake or contrived. Get the gist of it in your mind and let your lips do the rest. Be prepared to be flexible. Don’t panic if things go another way. It’s the tone and feeling of your plan that will carry the situation.
Execute – When the situation presents itself again, take a deep breath and trust your desire to create a better result. It isn’t even important to get it right the second time. It’s important to try for improvement, to amp it up a little bit at a time. Keep in mind that the execution is just another trial run, not a shot at perfection.
Repeat – Be prepared to tweak again, and again. Deep down, I’m still a perfectionist. It gets under my skin when I think I’ve made a mistake. It’s hard to shake the feeling entirely. But I’m learning to invite the imperfect into my life more and more. I do it because I finally realized that 99% of life isn’t perfect. Perfect is simply a label we each have for a set of criteria that mostly makes us feel bad about who we are and what we do. If we can, a little at a time, let go of the idea of perfect, then we at least have a chance of being okay with how things turn out in our lives – and one day, maybe even quite happy about it.