Monday, June 20, 2016

Managing Through Plateaus and Disappointment

This is the hardest thing I struggle with. And I struggle with many things. I'm constantly amazed at how feedback (or the lack of it) drastically impacts me. I'm very motivated by positive feedback in general and very demotivated by a lack of feedback. I’m actually slightly less demotivated by feedback poorly given. 

So, I take this as a challenge to me. Of course, I can complain about the delivery or quality of the feedback, but it seems more constructive to inoculate myself to it, especially when it comes from those with whom I disagree with or don’t share their perspective. The best feedback comes from those who a) have actually viewed what I've done over time and don't rely on one sample, b) give me meaningful points to build on and finally c) have struggled to build skills themselves versus having some degree of natural aptitude or demonstrating that they indeed need to practice. 

But the problem is being too driven by feedback, good or bad. That means you are looking outside yourself for validation and self-worth. Still, it’s a balance. We still need to honestly assess and be honestly assessed.

So the challenge is to identify good teachers for any goal and work with them exclusively, or more attainably, to inoculate myself against bad instruction, because I think I’d rather get less than ideal feedback given with authenticity, then to hear nothing. So while I will work to identify teachers that expect good performance but are also supportive, inoculation is most important. Finding ideal instruction will be a unique circumstance at best. So, how do I do that?  

I remember an improv instructor once giving a group of us the advice of taking the feedback that works for you and ignoring the rest. I like this because it means that you don't have to be influenced by trying to achieve something just like someone else with different strengths and talents did. I’ve also watched people that I think are good learners who do the same thing. They try the advice out and if it works for them, they pursue it. And if it doesn’t work for their style, they drop it. Treat everything like an experiment. Some experiments work out and some don’t.

After that, I have to remember that my goals may or may not be different from my teacher’s goals. Do I want to be great at something, or merely competent? And by whose standards? I need to keep in mind the reasons why I practice anything and remember to measure myself by those standards. Another great piece of improv advice was “if you’re not having fun, then you’re the asshole.” Life won’t always be fun as in uninterrupted amusement, but your actions should lead you good places. If you think you’re getting lost, reassess. Maybe you need to get back on course, or maybe you’re heading someplace new.

A great deal of this comes back to remember who you are trying to satisfy. Are you achieving a goal you’ve set for yourself? Are you in competition? Are you trying to impact other people’s perceptions of you? Win someone’s opinion? Any of these can be an absolutely desirable goal, as long as you understand that motivation, especially when you are looking outside yourself for an evaluation and you might not like the feedback. But if this matters for you, go for it with abandon. Just make sure you check your head along the way.