Two people doing the same work will do it differently. They will color the work with their context, perceptions, judgments and resulting actions. There are examples abound in our everyday lives but here are a few public ones from politics and business to clarify the point—Barak Obama and George W. Bush held the same office with the same supporting structures but their governments ran differently. Imagine if Steve Jobs built Amazon instead of Apple or Jeff Bezos built Facebook instead of Amazon. Those that follow these leaders and their unique styles might be able to extrapolate the kind of companies Amazon or Facebook might have been in this alternate universe. Each of these humans has unique strengths and blind spots given their life journey and wiring. It’s easy to see this blend—of strengths and failings, informed perspectives and gaps in understanding—in public figures because of their magnified influence on society and culture but these forces exist within each of us.
I’ve noticed however that when I care enough for something, I want to support it with all of my strengths and none of my failings. It’s how parents might feel when they hope to pass along all their good traits to their children but none of the suboptimal ones. But of course, this is impossible. The next generation pulls from the entirety of our genetics, DNA, capabilities and gaps. The same applies to work. Good work asks that we step forward as our whole selves which includes our ideas, perspectives, and strengths but also our blind spots and failings. Trying to surgically suppress our shadows only turns us into distorted and inauthentic caricatures of ourselevs. Also note that suppressing our limitations is different from understanding them, which is critical if we care about the impact of our presence and work.
The contradiction buried in a good life and good work is that we have to step forward completely with our blind spots and imperfections, and bring along a commitment to keep broadening our perspectives. We need the audacity to show up with all our warts and the humility to keep learning. The alternative is to just freeze and be paralyzed with fear of being proved imperfect, and this approach serves no one.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”― Maya Angelou: poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist.