From Good to Great: Part 1
Suffering from “good enough” syndrome.
I’ve spent the majority of my career under the wide umbrella of marketing, advertising and design. I’ve worn many hats, enjoyed most of them and learned a lot. My journey, like for many, is the process of going from Jack of all trades, master of none, to discovering the area of specialization where you are really fulfilled, driven and passionate.
With every job change I could feel myself getting closer to something I was truly passionate about. When I got my first job as a full-time graphic designer I knew I had found the right niche but wow, how many different areas there are to specialize, study and learn. Logos, type, web, print, apps, posters, packaging — to name a few. I’ve dabbled in them all, which is the only way to really discover what you love and what you are really good at. But it takes time and you could get stuck in the land of Jack of all trades, master of none (maybe you like it there, that is OK) if you aren’t diligent enough to suss out what really makes you tick.
For me I felt stuck on the Jack of all trades wheel. I saw myself as a pretty good designer but I didn’t feel great, and I attributed this to a lack of focus, a lack of specialization. I wasn’t able to get great because I was stuck being good at too many things. I needed to figure out where my real strengths were ignited, go there, and thrive.
J.K. Simmons was Right
“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job’.”
That line comes from the 2015 Academy Award winning movie Whiplash. When I first heard it it struck a chord and I thought “Huh, that’s an interesting perspective.” I wasn’t sure if I agreed. Being an advocate for encouragement and positivity I couldn’t see how giving this feedback could be harmful. People should feel good about their efforts so they don’t give up. Then I started thinking “Is this why I feel stuck as a designer?” Up until then everything I had done had been good enough. I’d been properly thanked and awarded for my work, no one was really pushing me…I was doing a “good job.”
Complacency is defined as being dangerously unaware. Though to the individual it can feel safe, secure and comfortable. I think complacency is the side-effect of being “good enough.” It feels safe because it’s working just fine, you aren’t being punished or failing, you are getting paid, it’s easy, life is good. It’s dangerous because you stop pushing yourself, stop exploring and you fail to see how you’ve stopped growing. You’ve reached inertia.
When I talked to friends or colleagues about their road to success I often heard the word “specialize.” That is not to say you can’t have a wide variety of interests and skills, you most definitely should. But going from good to great is that slow and steady discovery to find that area of true passion, and you can’t stop along the way at complacency town.
This was my own personal Flywheel Effect, as coined by Jim Collins, author of Good to Great. The Flywheel Effect is “a cumulative process — step by step, action by action, decision by decision, turn by turn of the flywheel — that adds up to sustained and spectacular results.” I knew I wasn’t going to accelerate my flywheel by simply being good. I needed to find the right team that would help me become great and continue to push me out of my comfort zone. I needed to find my Terence Fletcher (J.K Simmons character in Whiplash — for those that don’t know).
Tell Me I’m Not Good
I had always wanted to find a mentor in my career, someone who could guide me. Up until that point I had always worked in jobs where I was really my own leader, my own art director. I believed a better leader was the secret to getting to the place I wanted to be in my design career. I needed to be apart of a team with more experienced designers that could mentor me instead of me always being the mentor. At least this is what I saw as the logical next step toward moving from good to great. I needed someone to tell me I wasn’t good. Someone to push me.
If you feel like you are struggling to make large strides with your work maybe step back and ask yourself if you’ve fallen victim to being just “good enough.” Has complacency set in and is it time to push yourself out of your comfort zone? Maybe it’s time to find the right place, and the right people, that will take you from good to great.
In Part 2 of my series “From Good to Great” I share the story of moving into a larger agency and how this helped, and hindered, my journey from good to great. Why it wasn’t at all what I expected but proved to be a crucial step.