It’s Ok To Be Average (Sometimes)

As a Creative, one of the biggest challenges I face is that I want everything I do to be perfect. The best. Better than everyone else.

Anything but average.

This is a learned experience from my time in the studio when I spent countless hours perfecting my craft as an artist. Like most classical musicians (and creatives), I found comfort in the pursuit of perfection because it gave me an objectively clear set of goals to try to achieve each day.

Early in my career, that pursuit of perfection extended to everything I tried to accomplish. I would spend hours crafting the perfect plan for the things I wanted to bring to life.

The truth is that my work was never perfect, but the absurd amount of time I spent trying to be perfect prohibited me from truly achieving my life and career goals.

Out of necessity, it got me thinking, “What if I could just be average at some things so that I could continue to strive for perfection in other areas? Would anyone even notice me being average?”

As you can imagine, the answer was usually no, most people didn’t notice me being average.

Being average at some things in life gives me more time and energy to strive for perfection elsewhere.

Here are five things you can do to be average (sometimes).

Practice Selective Perfection. The pursuit of perfection takes a lot of time and energy so, for every opportunity in which you strive for perfection, try to select two to three things where you are just shooting for average.

It pains me to even type the words “shooting for average” because it goes against many of my core values, but practicing selective perfection is a learned skill and, if done correctly, it will give you more time to pursue perfection in the most important aspects of your career.

Stop Writing Perfect Emails. This is an easy place to be average. I once spent an hour writing the perfect email for a person I held in high regard and barely knew. I wanted to look professional and knowledgeable about our field and the email was my first opportunity to make a good impression. With much trepidation, I hit send on the email, only to receive a poorly written, one-sentence reply from him 2-minutes later saying that it was nice to meet me.

Did the well-written email accomplish its goal of making a good impression? Yes. Could I probably have achieved the same result in less than a quarter of the time? Also yes. Emails are memos, not novels. Strive to be average at email.

Make Your Work Time-bound. Want a surefire way to break the cycle of perfection in order to move forward on your ideas? Set time limits on your work and hold yourself to the established deadline. For example, I set a time limit of one hour to create, edit and post the daily blog post you’re reading right now. Is it perfect? Naver. Does it help me get my ideas out in a consistent fashion? Absolutely.

Average Consistency > Sporadic Perfection. In undergrad, I was expected to give two recitals in order to earn my degree. That’s two recitals in four years. If I could point to a reason that I tend to lean towards perfection, that might be it. Waiting for the perfect moment to be perfect kept me from radical experimentation and also put way too much pressure on me to deliver.

I suffered from perfection scarcity.

In the rest of my life, this mindset got in the way of me moving my big ideas forward because I always wanted to wait for them to be perfect. That’s when I realized that average consistency got me way closer to my goal than sporadic perfection.

Take Smaller Steps Towards Your Big Goals. Creatives often view the final product as their sign of success, but I’ve always appreciated that the pursuit of perfection in the process is the best way to achieve my goals. Rather than spending months to come up with the perfectly executed plan, I now set a series of smaller goals to test my idea and set myself up for greater success in the long run.

I hope this will help you identify some ways to be average in your life and career pursuits and I’d love to hear from you about some strategies you’ve adopted in your work.

Thanks for reading!

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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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