Defining Our Own Metrics for Excellence

Career Jan 1, 2020

I’ve been struggling lately. To get certain things done and to muster the energy to start. I have a tendency to wonder “why” this is happening instead of thinking what I could do about it.

Maybe this stuck-ness is because I have ADHD. Maybe it’s because it’s the holidays, which are difficult when you’re estranged from half of your family. Maybe it’s the new puppy who’s always nibbling on me, just like my fear of failure. Maybe it’s the feedback I got in my last performance review.

For most of my life, I hoped I would just become someone else. Who doesn’t ask as many questions, who’s less curious, less intense, who doesn’t have exhausting morals. Maybe then I could implicitly trust other people and their intentions, like my manager suggested I do in my review.

Impact matters more than intention, especially where diversity and inclusion is concerned. Considering substantial evidence and life experience that points in the other direction, it would be naive for underrepresented people to assume good intentions. Asking someone to do so is only reinforcing harm. It’s the difference between “I’m sorry, this won’t happen again” and “I’m sorry that you reacted this way”.

I’ve been stewing in this feedback and the situation that led to it. I want to be open minded and receptive, but only with healthy boundaries. If I don’t agree with this feedback, what can I learn from this situation?

I’m not willing to trust myself less in order to trust other people more.

Luckily, I have science in my corner. Negative feedback, like the extra 20,000 negative messages ADHD children receive, doesn’t actually help you grow. Harvard Business Review covers this in depth in “The Feedback Fallacy”. More than half of feedback from someone else reflects their characteristics, not yours. I would bet this rating distortion strengthens the biased, personality based feedback women get in performance reviews.

“We humans do not do well when someone whose intentions are unclear tells us where we stand, how good we “really” are, and what we must do to fix ourselves. We excel only when people who know us and care about us tell us what they experience and what they feel, and in particular when they see something within us that really works.”

-The Feedback Fallacy

I relished this article’s reminder that excellence has many definitions. None of those definitions are merely the opposite of failure. Excellence is built upon your prior success, not anyone’s success and certainly not just anyone’s feedback.

The only way out is through and it’s best to start exactly where you are.

I might not be able to control the obstacles I face or figure out why I react the way I do to them, but there is one thing we can all do. We can experiment with ourselves to find our own excellence. Finding something that works is usually more important than why it works (the scientist in me is cringing at this though!).

My biggest wins have been when I stood up for my values, other people, and pushed for structural change. I thrive with complexity, whether technical or social. That’s how I know I can sideline this feedback now. My moments of excellence include honesty, transparency, and healthy communication.

I only have a day left to work on my 2019 goal: asking other people for help. So I stole some suggestions from friends on how to get unstuck. I’m going to experiment with working at a coffee shop, rewarding myself for any progress and adding additional things to do or ways to do them to a future list instead of chasing those options now.

Oh, and I ordered a whiteboard, because color coded diagrams and doodles solve everything.


Cakelin Fable

Polygon gargoyle. Spicy scientist, engineer, artist, and entrepreneur. Disabled, nonbinary, and bisexual. Host of Defective Detective podcast. Buddhist into books. Service dog pup Pepper Ann.

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