I made a mistake this week.
It wasn’t a huge mistake, but it was an error in judgment and it jeopardized the trust in a relationship that is important to me. When I realized my mistake, I fessed up quickly to the individual involved and apologized. The person on the receiving end of my error was extremely gracious, stating emphatically, “no harm, no foul.” While relieved and thankful for this kindness, I found myself stewing about it for days afterwards, irritated with myself for the lapse and worried about the consequences. I even re-apologized, seeking assurance that things, in fact, were good between my friend and myself. Can you relate? Have you ever struggled to move beyond a mistake you made either personally or professionally? Have your apologies or corrective actions ever been more about you and your need to feel absolved versus your desire to reconcile a relationship or situation in a healthy way for all parties involved?
In “Humility is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age,” authors Edward Hess and Katherine Ludwig share their perspective on what it will take to thrive in the coming “Smart Machine Age (SMA).” Whereas “smart” has traditionally been defined as possessing a high level knowledge and/or skill in a particular area, the authors cite a study out of Oxford which predicts that in the next two decades, technological advances could displace up to 47% of the US workforce.
Machines, it seems, are outpacing humans in many areas in which we have traditionally deemed ourselves “smart.”
According to Hess and Ludwig, what will set us and the next generation of workers apart and allow us to maintain gainful employment in an everchanging work environment will have less to do with knowledge, and more to do with how we embrace the very heart of human nature. The book details new mindsets and new behaviors, stating,
“We believe that to truly excel at the higher-level thinking and emotional engagement underlying the SMA Skills requires us to engage in four key behaviors: Quieting Ego; Managing Self (one’s thinking and emotions); Reflective Listening; and otherness (emotionally connecting and relating to others)” (Hess and Ludwig, p. 36-37).
So, other than making you and I relieved to work in a profession which is highly relational and irreplaceably “human,” what does this all have to do with mistakes? Well, according to the authors, “NewSmart” is a measure not of WHAT you know or HOW MUCH you know, but among other things, it is a measure of the quality of your thinking, listening, collaboration and learning; how good you are at “not” knowing and decoupling your beliefs (not values) from your ego.
NewSmart requires us to fail well.
NewSmart beseeches us to set aside perfectionism and judgment, seeing mistakes as opportunities for learning.
NewSmart is all about humility, and owning our mistakes takes a good measure of humility.
In contrast to humility and welcoming mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow, many of us struggle with perfectionism: fear of mistakes and avoidance (sometimes at any cost) of failure.
According to researcher Brene’ Brown, “Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval. Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule following, people pleasing, appearance, sports).
Somewhere along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: ‘I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect.’” (Brene’ Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (New York: Avery, 2012), 130.) Perfectionism and failure-avoidance limit motivation, learning, creativity and innovation—all essential components of NewSmart. Perfectionism also causes us to judge ourselves harshly for our mistakes, spending precious energy on self-indulgent thoughts about just how bad we really are. It keeps us focused on ourselves and our own short-comings, rather than keeping others front and center.
In my experience, perfectionism has another sinister side. If we judge ourselves harshly and condemn ourselves easily, this can translate to the care we provide others. Attitudes of judgment can be disguised as “high standards,” and these standards can affect how we perceive others’ efforts with their health and life choices. Finding acceptance for our own shortcomings can help us engage with others at a deeper level. Checking egos at the door creates safe, healing environments for our patients, who, like us, are bound to make mistakes as they navigate the waters of life and pain.
It occurred to me as I read the “Stop flogging yourself, do you hear me?!” reply to my re-apology that it truly was in no one’s best interest for me to dwell on my mistake one second longer.
NewSmart prompts curiosity, reflection and correction in the face of our human tendency to fail, but perfectionistic-based shame over mistakes only breeds insecurity and ineffectiveness on personal and professional levels.
So, as we seek to carry out the Vision of the APTA, to “transform society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience,” I encourage you to remember your humanness and check any tendency towards perfectionism at the door. We all make mistakes, and we will continue to do so until our time is up. We will make them at home. We will make them at the office. We will make them driving from the office to our homes (Yikes! I hate it when that happens, as I apologize to the empty seat next to me…). But if we can view our mistakes through a NewSmart lens, embracing them as opportunities for deeper learning, relationships, understanding, and innovation, perhaps we can pull the good out of them.