For the last couple of decades, I lived by the axiom ‘what gets measured, gets improved.’ It was a great mantra for a project manager focused on streamlining clunky business processes. In my past life, I measured everything: how long it took us to place orders to a factory, how long the factory took to confirm them, order raw materials, inspect them, make product etc. And I challenged, squeezed, and shortened these times along the way. Whether I was improving, organizing or competing, it all came naturally to me.
So it wasn’t a surprise that this way of being seeped into other areas of my life. I’m the only person I know that has a fully labelled pantry at home, and I can write a SOP in my sleep. Seriously. A friend introduced me to the Good Reads app over Christmas, and I set up my account by the first of the year. It tracks how many books I read in a year, a month, a week. I was overjoyed when I discovered the feature to mark the date you start and finish a book. What gets measured, gets improved.
I started developing an awareness around this when I started coaching. Initially, I found myself asking clients to rate goals and emotions on a scale of 1 to 10. Not a bad question as such, but I had a bias for numbers, so I stopped asking it. Eventually, I began practicing curiosity in earnest, truly letting go of the expectations of an neatly packaged outcome. This hasn’t come easy to me, and I occasionally still find myself getting tempted to solve problems and organize a client’s jumbled thoughts. It finally occurred to me, just like my old habits trickled into areas of my life where they didn’t belong, what if I introduced and practiced letting go more broadly?
With some difficulty, I stopped tracking turnaround time on books I read, instead focusing on the immersive experience they offer. I find myself seeking hobbies that for a long time will permit me to prioritize being an explorer over an expert. I’ve been belabouring a 500-piece puzzle, a gift from my nephew, I’ve taken up chess, and don’t get me started on the amount of time I stare at word games, looking for and failing to find patterns. I am finally starting to become comfortable with not knowing, planning or improving. Just being. And now when I sit with a client, I ask myself what letting go of expectations would look like in the next hour.
For someone who can create a KPI for everything, I surprised myself by pursuing disciplines where there’s little room for perfection and expertise. Of course there is competition in yoga and writing, but it is regarded with either controversy and/ or subjectivity. Yoga, writing and coaching are all paths that despite their respective foundations and crafts, encourage us to be perpetual beginners – to wonder, explore and experiment.
It has taken me over 40 years to see that I still learn when I don’t excel. In fact, I enjoy myself more. I’m increasingly curious to experience pursuits without self-imposed pressures and expectations, revelling in the journey and growth, not the accolades or outcomes. How many of us are holding on to legacies that have shaped and defined us for decades, not knowing they stopped serving us years ago? And maybe they never did.