I want to begin with a couple of disclaimers.: Firstly, this is neither an endorsement for nor a bash on the letter grading system that exists in many public schools. Additionally, I never had a teacher actually tell me that I received a “C-” for “complacency.” In fact, that would have likely been counterproductive if they have approached me in such a manner. This is simply a reflection on how two specific educators in my life influenced me to live up to my potential.
Of course highlighting these two educators is not to take away from the extraordinary contributions that all my teachers had over the years. There is just one commonality between the two that is worth discussing. The first is my eighth grade English teacher, Ms. Arthur. The second is my advanced composition professor at Grambling State University, Dr. Clawson. Both of these educators gave me a grade I was not accustomed to–a “C-.”
Though I remained tactful, I marched into the both of their rooms with a fairly arrogant attitude. “I think you made a mistake,” I said. “I’ve seen everybody else’s paper, and mine is by far the best!” Although these two occurrences were approximately five years apart, both of them gave me the same calm look and responded, “you can do better than this.”
I was floored! “Ok Yoda!” I thought. “Save your motivational speech for someone else.” Believe it or not, I didn’t have a response. I walked out of the room disappointed and slightly angry that this happened to me twice! Once my initial frustration subsided during the latter interaction, a new revelation began to set in. I had once again become so comfortable doing the bare minimum, that it was beginning to show in my work. In other words, my complacency was limiting my potential.
We use the word “complacency” fairly often in the Marine Corps. Quotes like “complacency kills” are plastered all over posters in an effort to remind marines to remain sharp and prepared for uncertainty. So what does “complacency” mean? Merriam Webster defines “complacency” as “self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.” There’s no wonder why military organizations condemn complacency because the results can be fatal, but let’s consider other environments where the consequences aren’t as dire. Does it matter whether you are complacent or not? Were the educators I mentioned above just overreacting?
I will offer this to answer those questions: if you show me an environment where complacency is rampant, I will show you an environment of mediocrity.
Numerous people and organizations have limited their upward potential as they have settled with “good enough.” Usually, complacency is driven by pride in one’s achievements–especially in comparison to others. For example, I have always enjoyed writing, and because I have enjoyed and practiced writing, I improved over time. Over the years, my parents, mentors, and educators have encouraged me to continue to hone in on this skill. So much so that I managed to become extremely proud of my work and ability to effortlessly write thousands of words while others struggled to write hundreds.
My mistakes that led to complacency.
My first big mistake was taking too much time to praise my own work and abilities. I call this the “always A+ mentality.” With this mindset, I believed that everything I wrote deserved an A+. It was like I somehow thought I was the “King Midas” of composition. Of course this mindset was reaffirmed by the grades I received throughout elementary, high school, and college. With this arrogant attitude, I neither practiced writing nor studied to improve my writing abilities. I even began to procrastinate on projects that had a substantial impact on my overall grade. In my mind, I was becoming a better writer without prioritizing writing.
As I continued to bask in my own pride and boast (to myself) how great I was becoming, I began to compare myself to my peers. In fact, my peers began to bring me their work to edit–further affirming how “great” I was at writing. It wasn’t until I received that second “C-” from one of my many respected educators that I began to understand how my writing skills had stagnated. My vocabulary hadn’t truly expanded since high school, my ideas were recycled, and my research-backed evidence presented in my writing was shallow. I had spent so much time celebrating my accomplishments in an echo chamber that I hadn’t noticed that I had peaked and began a gradual decline.
My educators made me aware of my gradual decline and complacency.
In retrospect, I could’ve been much further along in my writing endeavors if I would’ve remained focused on improvement instead of just meeting the bare minimum. These two educators–and many others–recognized my potential, and took action to ensure that my arrogance did not allow me to unnecessarily peak. Rather, they encouraged me to be a continual learner who actively seeks out complacent habits in my life. From a overall grade perspective, the “C-” was inconsequential. However, it was critical to my personal development.
How to maximize an individual’s potential while preventing complacency.
1. Recognize the signs of complacency.
Don’t become so enamored with raw talent and skill that you miss obvious signs of complacency. For example, I heard a basketball coach discussing one of his players, “Man, he’s gotten good! I don’t even know how to coach him anymore!” At that moment, I knew the player’s upward potential would stall if someone didn’t intervene. The player had phenomenal stats, but he was simply going through the motion on offense, giving lackluster effort on defense, distracted by the crowd, and missing obvious ways to engage his teammates. As leaders, we must remain purpose-driven and focused on improving those we lead. Don’t get distracted by the stats!
2. Identify purpose.
Help those you lead find their purpose. I’ve talked quite a bit about purpose in “Chasing purpose is better than chasing success” Part 1 and Part 2. Two of my favorite quotes from these articles are: 1.) Your purpose is the wind beneath your wings during thriving times and the force that drives you during low times. 2.) Chasing success leads to disappointment. Chasing purpose leads to fulfillment. I believe your purpose aligns with what inspires you. As I stated in “How to shift your perspective and live a better life TODAY!,” there are three quick questions to ask yourself to find what inspires you. The intersection of these answers will reveal your purpose.:
- What activities, thoughts, or passions energize me?
- What value do I bring to those around me (hint: we all bring value to those around us)?
- What are my greatest strengths?
3. Develop individualized goals.
Immediate and long-term goals are critical to overcoming complacency and increasing potential. Goals trigger new behaviors and habits while helping you gain and maintain momentum. If you know me, you know I love cheesy acronyms. With that in mind, teach those you lead that developing and achieving goals is “DOPE!”
- Dream. Develop a clear vision of what achieving your purpose looks like. What actionable steps do you need to take?
- Offload. Write down your clear vision statement and the actionable steps you thought of in the first step.
- Plan. Develop a deliberate plan to achieve your actionable steps. That means you should break down how you will achieve each step in detail. Start assigning specific dates, times, and deadlines to your steps. This is where your goals transform from conceptual to actionable.
- Execute. In the words of one of my college professors Dr. Matthew, “do the job!” In other words, start executing the above steps while adhering to the deadlines. Record your progress and repeat this cycle as required to refine your goals and actionable steps. Remain focused on ensuring your goals align with your purpose!
4. Co-develop individualized standards.
Sometimes, people’s personal standards align with the bare minimum universal standards. You will have to invest additional time helping to develop standards if that is one of the people you lead. Universal standards exist to establish a baseline understanding of societal expectations. However, our personal standards are layered on top of universal standards to help us consistently pursue our lifelong purpose. In other words, the metrics we use to measure our success (standards) shouldn’t simply equal the universal standard; instead, our standard should track and measure how effective our unique goals are at helping us achieve our purpose.
5. Time and effort.
As I alluded to above, developing and achieving goals requires you to adhere to specific dates, times, and deadlines. As such, you must teach those you lead how to budget their time and apply effort to the things that help them achieve their immediate and long-term goals. I have a sticky note on my work computer that reads, “Remember: Don’t dedicate energy and effort to things that don’t matter.” I offer that same advice to you and those you lead. First, write down every activity that consumes your time and effort over a 72 hour period. Next, circle the things that help you achieve your purpose (purposeful). Then, highlight the things that may not necessarily contribute to your purpose but they are necessary for your daily routine (essential). Lastly, cross out the things that are neither purposeful nor essential (worthless). Continue this exercise over time until you develop a list of purely purposeful and essential tasks. After all that is done, determine how much time you need to accomplish each item on your refined task list. Prioritize these tasks in order of importance, and use this document to drive your daily actions and activities.
Many people live their entire lives without reaching their true potential. That is why it’s critical for us to apply these fundamentals to help others maximize their potential. It will be a challenge, but it is achievable as long as we remain focused. I’m extremely proud of you for joining us on this journey. Keep up the great work, and let’s demolish complacency together!
Thanks for reading, and have a great week!