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Finding satisfaction in a never-ending pursuit of excellence

Imagine training for an extraordinary athletic accomplishment, like running a sub 5 minute mile. The goal consumes you. Every waking hour is spent either physically training or visualizing how you are going to break that time. Finally, the day is here. Training has been executed perfectly against your roadmap and it’s time to go. As you cross the finish line and check the clock, you see…4:59! Holy s***! All the stress, pain, and lack of sleep has paid off. Time to celebrate!

The next morning you wake up, just like any other day. The feeling of jubilation is now gone. A 4:59 mile feels passé, but a 4:30 mile…that’s something that you could be proud of. And the cycle continues until the day you die.

While some may think this obsessive attitude is only limited to some of the most exceptional athletes, it’s actually a mindset/trait that’s quite prevalent in many facets of life, including our careers.

How does one begin to describe such relentless behavior? Is it a disease? Do I need Prozac? How about “grit?” Yeah, that’s more like it…"grit." Grit is by no way a new term. In fact, its origin can be traced back to the year 1000. However, its relevant usage as a behavioral trait can be credited to renowned physiologist, Angela Duckworth. She won a $650k fellowship to study the trait, gave a noteworthy TED Talk and even published a book on the topic (Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance).

Grit can be defined as an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or end state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective.

For those that carry the trait, you know that grit can lead to some amazing results. It’s the feeling of excitement you have waking up on a weekday. It’s that sense of pride and accomplishment after nailing a presentation. However, grit can also cause feelings discontent and a lack of self-worth. The relentless pursuit of excellence can lead to disappointment if we don’t keep ourselves in check. The following are some potentially helpful ways to manage the downside of grit.

1. Pause and reflect on what you’ve accomplished to date. Yeah, yeah, yeah…I know that’s not in your nature, but just try it. It’s OK to stop, breath, and smile and pump your fist every now and then. If the bar is raising every day, you have to look back and celebrate your latest jump before you get back out there and do it again.

2. Stop comparing everything you do with those around you. Everyone is not equal, and we’re all motivated by different things. You can spend your whole career asking why the guy or lady next to you leaves at 5pm or why someone else feels that it’s OK to take a 90 minute lunch when you don’t even have time to get up for a drink. Scenarios like this happen in every company across the world and it’s not going to change. Spend your time focusing on your career, not anyone else’s.

3. Find places where you’re the dumbest person in the room. Wait…what? I don’t recommend doing this every day because that might lead to some depression, but try it out every now and then. Approach someone more senior, jump on a new subreddit, join a discussion on nuclear physics. Whatever it is, get out of your comfort zone and start feeling humbled.

4. Know when to turn it off. In today’s connected society the work day never really ends, especially for those with grit. While working through the late evening may seem like the best way to get ahead (or keep up), this has the danger to lead to burnout, especially among junior employees. It’s crucial to find that stopping point for the day. Finish that last email, then get outside: read, run, bike, or stay inside: meditate, play video games, pet a cat. The bottom line is that it’s not possible to be in pursuit of excellence all the time.

When you’ve reached the end of the road, you don’t want to be the one wondering what the next milestone is. You want to look back and relish in all that you’ve accomplished and finally be satisfied.

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