Consistency is not *always* key
I always thought that if someone were to describe my career in one word, I would want it to be “consistent”. I looked at “being consistent” as one of the biggest compliments I could ever receive. If people were to say “well at least she was consistent” then I would feel happy about my life and career; successful even. But now I’m not so sure.
We have all heard that old adage a thousand times: Consistency is key. While I still think this holds a lot of truth and wisdom in its own right, I no longer want my career or life successes to be defined with consistency as my metric. Almost no one who has gone on to do great things has consistently been consistent. Looking at the greats such as Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, and every other great innovator, they have all experienced trials and tribulations before they were successful in their pursuit. It seems that often it takes a great failure, or many great failures, before a big breakthrough. Sometimes even, it takes so long for these breakthroughs to be recognized that people are only seen as successful post mortem.
A quote from the book Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist sums this idea up well:
“And then I became the kind of person who threw candy as long as nothing else was going on – as long as it didn’t get in the way of being responsible. I threw candy at approved and sanctioned candy-throwing time, after all the work was done and things were safe and lunches were made. And then I got so wrapped up in being responsible that it was never the right time to throw candy.”
I don’t want to be so focused on being consistent and responsible and always doing what is “right” all the time that I miss out on being able to throw candy at all.
I am realizing that while having a very consistent, responsible, and conservative approach will undoubtedly yield me some good results, they may be just that. Good. But not great. Not extraordinary. Almost no author has written a notable book that was conservative, followed the current literary rules, and didn’t go outside the lines for one reason or another. If we never strayed from what worked and the status quo, we would never test limits or find boundaries. If you never tried to push your training to the edge, you would never know where the edge was. If you never tried out a new event on the track, you might never discover that while you were good in the 800m you could be outstanding in the steeplechase. Of course, you might also find out that in fact waterpits and giant hurdles are not your thing and you should stick to the 800m after all, but it is these risks that are the most valuable to us. It is these risks that will end in grand reward whether that’s a catastrophic failure that will teach us about discovery and bring us the best opportunities for growth, or a new talent or idea that we didn’t know we were capable.
This is not to say that from here on out I will be trying to run 150 mile weeks and eating only bananas and chocolate chips as my fuel source all in the name of growth and discovery (somehow I don’t think my coach would be jazzed about this idea). There is still value to being consistent and I think for a good part of our time in any pursuit, whether it be running, sports, writing, or your life’s work; consistency will pay large dividends. But I don’t think that it is consistency that we should strive for to define the greatest success in our work. I’m going to keep training consistently but make sure to mix in some risks too. I will pick and choose my battles but I also know there are some cliffs I’m going to have to leap off if with nothing but faith to land on. I want to fail so that I can learn and grow. I would much rather have several DNF’s that before winning some big titles as opposed to always getting Top 20 but never quite making IT.
I want to fail, but smartly. Then I can pick myself up and move forward armed with new ideas on how to improve. I accept that I may get injured occasionally as I try to push limits and push myself. As the saying goes:
“You can’t do anything you haven’t done before by doing the same things you’ve always done.”
I no longer think that being consistent is the best compliment I could get from someone. It’s still a good one, don’t get me wrong. But instead of a career that was just consistently “good”, I would rather strive a little higher and hope to have the career with all the highs and all the lows that can make a career “great”. That’s what I want my legacy to be, I want it to be one wild-unexpected-exciting-interesting-great-ride. That to me, would be the ultimate compliment.