Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Perfection: the Enemy of Purpose

Although many of us have come to the conclusion that a meaningful life can only be achieved through meaningful work, I've sadly made the mistake of assuming this meaning is only achieved by people "changing the world" (e.g., the MLKs, Mandelas and Mother Teresas).

Through our work at Amal Academy, however, we are finding that it doesn't take Red-Cross-like organizations or Mother-Theresa-type leaders to make a difference.

For example, our Program Manager just conducted a survey for our Amal Career-Prep Fellowship, which I assumed would be pretty harsh, given that we had recently implemented a stricter homework and attendance policy, shifted the curriculum significantly and had also dropped a number of balls due to a transition in leadership. In other words, things weren't going well (in my mind), and we were really far from creating the type of meaning that (I felt) should lead to a fulfilled life. And yet, the survey completely shocked me:

The fellowship is very help full for me because now i feel confident. before joining the amal academy i was so confused and had no confidence. i can see the difference now as compared to my before joining the amal academy


From childhood till now, I never look out of box but this fellowship gave a confidence that you can do anything, any time but for that you have to be commited. best moments of my life


I am in the process of improving my confidence, this fellowship gave me courage to come out from my comfort zone and it was a big hurdle in my life. they actually taught me to believe in myself and made me realize how much my life stories are important to build a bridge between me and my career.


What the fellows are teaching us is that it doesn’t take much to make a difference. That although we might be fixated on creating perfect solutions and Gandhi-like personas, small investments can go a really long way.

And secondly it’s teaching us is that we often don’t realize what impact these small actions can have. We don’t recognize or appreciate that meaning can be created everywhere: through a smile, from a just-thinking-of-you email, by asking a stranger how they’re doing or remembering an acquaintance's name, even an unexpected 3 minute catch-up call or a Career-Prep Fellowship program that has major cracks. Just like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, meaning can be found and created everywhere, if only we take the time to look for / develop it.

In a world with some amazing heroes, it's easy to fall into the trap that we are insignificant, that the difference we can make is negligible and inconsequential and too far from perfect. But what if we challenged this quest for perfection? What would it look like if we started living each day as if it was filled with dozens of opportunities to make small (but possibly deep) differences? How might it change the way we interact with others, the risks that we take, the comfort zones we breach? And what would be the sum of all the meaning/beauty that we would be able to develop?


P.S. As it turns out, this is an idea that is compellingly explored by people like Drew Dudley in his TED talk about everyday acts of improving each other’s lives and Mark Bezos in his talk about not waiting to be a hero to get in the game. Even Viktor Frankl introduces this simple idea in Man's Search for Meaning as he explains (below) that "meaning can be found anywhere,"