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Taking imperfect action

Whether we’re finding ways to take action for racial justice and radically reforming law enforcement or findings ways to take action on one of our life goals, it isn’t about getting it just right.

In fact, it might be better to get it wrong. Try and fail. Make mistakes. Get up and try again.

With a growth mindset, some willingness to get uncomfortable and a few moves to get you started, you’ll make progress.

Of course, I know firsthand that’s much easier said than done.

Striving for perfection

All week, I’ve been grappling with how to speak to the Black Lives Matter movement in a thoughtful, respectful and attuned way. A way that avoided tone deafness and putting my unconscious, privileged white male blind spots on display.

I also wanted to stay in my lane as a personal growth coach and a therapist, and of course, I wanted to add value and offer something useful. That something just needed to be innovative, collaborative and scalable with an affordable price tag. No big deal. =/

Turns out I wanted to make the perfect move. To take just the right action. The one that would have the most impact, wouldn’t offend anyone and would solve racism by close of business on Friday.

Not surprisingly, my desire to take the perfect action got me nowhere. And didn’t serve the cause.

But that’s where I went. I was feeling anxious, uncomfortable, helpless, and all sorts of vulnerable. My habitual response to those feelings? Spring into action and nail it the first time.

I know I’m not alone in this. I see this with clients all the time, especially working with men and mostly gay men, in particular.

As a general rule, men want to serve, be useful, solve problems, and do it all in a way that is immune to criticism, won’t make us look foolish and might even get us some praise. We like to get it right.

My experience working with gay men is that we have long, complicated histories with striving to get it right – to do it perfectly - in everything we do. It’s one of the ways we try to protect ourselves from shame and rejection. More on that in a future piece.

Of course, gay men don’t have the market cornered on perfectionism, but we’re damn good at it.

Willingness, curiosity and self-compassion aka growth mindset

The point is that no matter our goal and regardless of who all has a stake in it, when we set out on a path to grow and develop ourselves, two things have to happen…

1. We must take action

2. We must be willing to get a little messy

If you don’t want to grow, then keep striving for perfection, feeling like you have to nail it the first time out and thinking mistakes are the end of the world.

I know you want to grow, though, and I know that perfectionism and inaction are depleting and hurt your self-esteem. Let’s get you off that hamster wheel.

Instead, let’s help you approach action-taking as experiments. Safe-to-fail, trial and error, data gathering experiments that will give you insights, build your skills and get you learning. And let’s help you do this with a growth mindset of curiosity and self-compassion.

Imperfect action

Mindset is only step one, of course. Taking the action comes next.

Back to the anti-growth, inaction mindset I was stuck in earlier this week. Once I got out of my anxious mind’s version of action (talking with my coach helped immensely…hint, hint), I started sensing into my heart, body and spirit.

Placing my hand on my chest, I centered myself, inhaled, exhaled, and asked for my heart’s guidance. Like clockwork, my soul spoke up, and the best actions for me to take emerged. I got to work.

Were any of actions game-changing? No. Will they solve racism? Hardly. Do they add value? Jury’s out. Am I doing them right? Maybe not.

The point is I got started. I took a few mindful steps knowing I’d falter and trusting I’d learn something. And I have.

Getting yourself started

You've got your mindset right so now what? If you don’t know where to start, here’s a helpful way to think about action. In Presence-based Coaching, we use an action matrix with the following four action domains:

1. Awareness Actions – meditating, self-observing practices and attention training

2. Somatic Actions – breathwork, yoga, centering practices

3. Social Actions – asking for help, building a team, making public commitments

4. Environment Actions – time in nature, accountability systems, time management tools

Starting with a move in any of these domains is great. In new coaching relationships, we often begin with self-observing practices to help clients see how they’re showing up in their worlds.

I also find adding basic breathing and centering practices are powerful actions to cultivate mind-body presence and strengthen the central nervous system, allowing for more growth and expansion.

The idea is to take actions in several different areas to accelerate your learning. It’s more interesting and fun that way anyway!

Remember, the initial goal of taking action is to learn something. By making small moves and taking single steps, as awkward and clumsy as they may be at first, you’ll do just that. You’ll get new information to work with, and with practice, you’ll build skills and get better at whatever it is you want.

But you can’t learn if you’re always standing still or on the sidelines. If you keep waiting for the perfect time and trying to make the perfect move, you’ll freeze.

The next time you feel a little frozen, simply pause, take a few breaths and tune into your heart. Then start small and know that whatever move you decide to make has value because it’s your move.

We need you to make a move. We need your moves, your voice, your gifts, and the authentic, imperfect actions that only you can take.

Awkwardly and imperfectly learning with you,



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