Mastery lies atop a mountain of mistakes

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BLUF – Those who are excellent at their work have learned to comfortably coexist with failure. Mastery lives quietly atop a mountain of mistakes.

The text above comes from the book Resilience by Eric Greitens. The book was gifted to me by a fellow commander, [the] Josh Hawkins. And by gifted I mean I guilted him for not letting me read the book that was in his library before he moved, and he bought me a copy of the book. Regardless, the book is a great read and I highly recommend the book to anyone looking for personal self-development.

When I started this blog, I intended to have a place to gather my thoughts and challenge myself to transform those thoughts into a coherent message. In my opinion, one of the most important jobs I have a middle-management is to be an effective translator. The ability to explain complex ideas with inclusive language so that broad audiences can understand the idea is an art and science, and I am constantly working on my craft to deliver useful products. Part of my intent is to challenge myself to keep doing things and avoid getting stuck in analysis paralysis, or the state of adding so many mental barriers to a problem to progress that no action is taken to attempt a solution. Another state I try to avoid is being fearful of being wrong. It should be noted that I spend a large amount of research, conversation, and constructive debate with trusted partners with my ideas before I put them to pen/keyboard. Once I believe I have a “good enough” solution, I work towards translating the solution into the most streamlined and effective version I can think of. I have a large whiteboard in my office (and several whiteboard in my house) where I continuously sketch my ideas for optimal organization and presentation until I believe I have found a product that balances the most important facets of the solution and is easy to follow/understand. Once complete, I find the appropriate platform to share my product. Sometimes that is at a key meeting at work, sometimes that is a team huddle with specific influencers, sometimes that is online in peer forums or on this website for maximum exposure. When I finally share the product, I always include an important caveat: here is my idea, please “grade my homework” and make the idea better.

To take full advantage of this approach, one must be unafraid to make a mistake. The act of publicly sharing your ideas can be daunting and even frowned upon in some circles. There are indeed portions of those who see my work that see my attempts at advancing solutions to problems as a dangerous practice, either due to me directly confronting sensitive subjects and “rattling the cage” or taking actions that aren’t fully informed. The first perspective I find odd, mainly that I’m never been interested in advancing my personal career, but instead advancing any solutions that have plagued our community for far too long. Am I supposed to simply wait for someone else to express an idea in my head? How long will I have to wait? Ask my wife, I tend to be an impatient person, especially when I think I have an idea that can potentially fix a problem we are all staring at. As for presenting ideas that aren’t fully informed…that’s the whole point of sharing. Make me informed so the solution I present can be better. I don’t even care if I get credit for the solution (eh, that’s 67.3% truthful). But if the solution gets improved by your informing my attempt and gets actually implemented, that’s most important to me.

My fear of making mistakes has lessened over time because I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a position where I can voice what others are afraid to. Once of my former teammates, Rachel Hammer, even mentioned to me that I’m the “voice of the people”, which I thought was funny, yet also felt was accurate. I work hard to crowdsource ideas from others that make sense to me and amalgamate them into something that hopefully that can work or will be improved to work. My fear of making mistakes has been overcome by hard work, having the humility to know I’m not the smartest person in the room, and not being afraid to voice and take action on what I see. The more action I take, the more I could be contributing to my mountain of mistakes.

So how are you building your mountain?

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