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Letting Go Of Perfection

“The power of discovery enables us to achieve excellence without having to be “perfect.'”

– Thomas Crum, The Magic of Conflict

I arrived at the conference center ready to present my workshop. Almost immediately I noticed the room was too small and it was not set up as requested. There were no flipcharts and there were tables, though I had specifically asked for open space. I caught myself and smiled. I drew the word D I S C O V E R Y in large letters on a piece of newsprint and put it at the front of the room as a reminder.

One of my favorite words, the concept of Discovery excites the brain, conjures up lost treasure, desert islands, new inventions, and old relics, something that was – up to now – unknown. Explorers discover new lands, scientists discover cures for diseases, and philosophers seek to discover the truth.

What about discovering each other? Learning what is new and important in each of our neighbors, friends, family, colleagues; what has been lost in the daily grind of work; truths, values, and hopes that are yet to be revealed? Discovery. A lovely word.

I first came to appreciate Discovery in The Magic of Conflict, where Thomas Crum describes it as a magical domain that “allows us to move beyond the fight, beyond success, to an open realm of possibility.” When we’re in Discovery mode, we are spontaneous, curious, fascinated, and appreciative of life in all its diversity.

Young children live in Discovery and sometimes we do. Katharine Hepburn lived a life of stardom but never lost her childlike fascination with people and life. Thomas Edison’s famous quotation after many attempts at inventing the light bulb shows a person in Discovery mode: “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work!”

What’s the opposite of Discovery? Perfection – a place with which we’re all too familiar. In Perfection, things have to be done right, we have to look good, get good grades, and win the games we play. Our standards are high, and failure is to be avoided at all costs. In daily conflicts, sometimes at the expense of our dearest relationships, we have to prevail. When we feel attacked we fight back, sometimes with our own hurtful words, or with behavior calculated to control, manipulate and diminish.

Shifting Gears
According to Tom Crum, when we shift into Discovery, we treat mistakes as outcomes and conflicts as opportunities to learn and understand more of the world and our partners. We stop being afraid to fail because there is no failure, only increased awareness and experience. We enter a world of wonder, spontaneity, and fun.

What Can I Learn Here?
We shift into Discovery, not with judgment, but with awareness – by moving from “How can I be right about this?” to: “What can I learn here?”

When I’m angry because I just missed a three-foot putt, Discovery changes self-judgment into an opportunity for learning.

In the middle of a tough meeting with your department manager, try asking yourself – “What can I learn here?” What is it about this issue that’s important to each of us?

Upon arriving home, you find your life partner upset.Your first reaction is that it’s something you did. But wait! “What can I learn here?” jumps into your thoughts, and you ask: “Honey, you seem upset. Anything I can help with?” And you hear: “I’m just worried that I won’t finish this new project they gave me at work in time.”

Or your teenager is exhibiting new habits that have you worried. It’s worth checking out what the worldview is from her perspective before reaching a judgment.

We’ve all experienced moments of Discovery when we break through to a new understanding. It’s a powerful place that we like and want to revisit. The challenge is to choose to go there on purpose, especially in difficult situations. Katharine Hepburn has been quoted as saying, “Wouldn’t it be great if people could get to live suddenly as often as they die suddenly?” Shifting from perfection to Discovery is the way. Try it. Discover for yourself.

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