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A Parent’s Perfectionism And A Hard Lesson Learned
Early on in The Strategic Coach® Program, we introduce a concept called The Gap, a state of mind highly common among ambitious entrepreneurs — and one that can cause a great deal of harm.
Quite simply, The Gap is the space between where we are currently in any given situation and where we want to be — our ideal. As we move toward our goal, we mentally measure our progress, and here’s where it gets tricky.
Most of us measure forward, looking ahead at the ideal goal and seeing that we’re always falling short. Any tendency toward perfectionism makes it even worse. At Coach, we learn to measure backward from where we are now to where we first started.
Measuring backward, we can immediately see the progress we’ve made. The feeling of accomplishment, even in small steps, keeps us moving forward with confidence rather than falling into The Gap and its accompanying feeling of failure. Measuring backward is how goals are reached and fulfilled! It sounds so logical and so simple. Why don’t we measure backward all the time instead of choosing the perfectionist’s route to our ideal outcome?
Once we truly understand how easy it is to put ourselves — and those around us — into The Gap, and how great life outside The Gap can be, there’s no measuring forward again — as Chad Johnson shares in his honest and deeply humbling story.
A quick, and heartbreaking, trip into The Gap.
Chad Johnson is a remarkable entrepreneur in The Strategic Coach Program as well as one of our exceptional associate coaches. He is also a devoted husband and father of 11 children. It is from his family life that he shares an unforgettable story about how quickly The Gap can propel us into thinking we’ve failed. This experience provided him with a powerful life lesson that will resonate with many.
As a Strategic Coach client and coach, Chad is well aware of The Gap and its pitfalls. Yet, one day he found himself heaping all the negativity of The Gap on his children in one unthinking moment.
Chad explains, “In reality, we fall in and out of The Gap all the time, depending on how we measure our progress — and we put others around us in The Gap, too, which is an unforgivable thing. In the story I’m going to share, I, sadly, had no awareness that I was actually doing this to my children. Their faces told me that I was.”
Smooth sailing on a family project until perfectionism showed up.
Chad and his family live on a farm in north central Oregon. On the property, there was a 6,000 square foot barn, where they had remodeled the upper level into a great family space with a gym, an office, and a library. Down below on the main level, it was a true barn, with a tractor, other farm equipment and implements, and a lot more “stuff.”
As Chad tells it, “One Saturday, I said to the kids, ‘We’re going to do an ‘80/20’ on the barn today.’”
“An 80/20 meant that we were going to go in there and make a great improvement,” Chad explains. ”We’d put the bikes away, organize everything, sweep out the mangers, and so on — but not to the point of 100 percent perfection. I know that aiming for 100 percent can easily lead to falling into The Gap.”
Divide and conquer was the strategy.
Chad and the kids broke up into two teams, an upstairs team and a downstairs team, having discovered over the years that divide and conquer works well for getting things done in a large family.
“We turned on the music, set a timer for two hours, and decided we were going to bang this out before lunch. When the timer went off two hours later, I headed down the stairs with my upstairs team and saw my downstairs team looking up at me. I’m not sure exactly what was going through their minds, but I’m sure they were excited to show me what they had accomplished.”
As Chad reached the bottom of the stairs, something caught his eye. It was a small section where they stored the odd pieces of wood that didn’t fit along the wall where all the other lumber was kept. To Chad’s eyes, it looked like these scraps of wood had just been pitched into this four- by six-foot space.
The one thing.
Chad continues, “I called them over and, without even thinking, started to pick on the one thing, the one thing out of 3,000 square feet — the one little spot that wasn’t perfect. I started to berate them about not caring, not being able to do quality work, about just chucking stuff into that space.
“Immediately, I saw them go from being so proud to show me the work they’d done to something I wasn’t expecting. They had been so pumped, thinking that I was going to love what they’d accomplished, but in the space of a minute, I took them to a place of utter failure. I deflated them completely.
“It was crazy because they’d done far more than I’d asked. They’d far surpassed the 80/20 we try to aim for. Everything had looked beautiful in the barn except for that one thing. And to see myself suck the life out of them was a moment I’ll never forget.”
Chad’s children turned and walked toward the house. That’s when it really hit him. He wondered what he had been thinking. His aim was always to build his children up, but he realized that in that moment, he had just destroyed them.
Chad admits, “I had put them in that place where you’re not enough, you’ve failed, and you should be ashamed of yourself. All of this, when they had done such amazing work! And yet, my tendency was to find that one thing.”
Aim for perfection, and you invariably set yourself up, instead, to fail.
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Asking for forgiveness.
Chad called out to them and asked them to come back. He says, “They turned around, expecting more abuse, probably.”
As Chad apologized and asked for their forgiveness, he told them what was true — that they had far surpassed his expectations, that what he had called them out for was such a small thing compared to all the great work they had done. He continues, “I told them I was proud of them, and I saw them come back to life.”
Always on the perfectionism lookout.
We all go into The Gap, the by-product of our high ideals and perfectionism. The important thing is to recognize you’re there and get yourself out as fast as you can.
As Chad finishes his story, he tells us, “This experience showed me that I was not only putting people I love deeply into The Gap. I was also doing it to people like my team, who I care very much about and who look up to me and depend on me.
“These are all people who don’t have the benefit of knowing about The Gap, or how to get themselves out of it, and I wasn’t conscious of that. But that moment in the barn with my children taught me an important and powerful life lesson I’ll always remember.”
You can be successful and happy or successful and unhappy. The difference is in how you measure your progress.