This post is Part 6 in a 12-part blog series on humility and growth. (If you missed the first post, you can find it here.)
A lot of times in life, we get to a point where we are “good enough,” and then we stop improving. The reason is that as humans, we like to be comfortable. We don’t continue to push ourselves because that experience is actually quite uncomfortable.
How Good of a Driver Are You Really?
Think about your skill at driving, which is something you probably do every day. When you first started driving, it was difficult. I still remember learning how to drive stick-shift in my maroon Toyota Tercel hatchback. I killed the engine trying to get going on a hill, and people started honking at me because they were so impatient. I was so nervous, I killed the engine again! In a similar way, parallel parking seemed impossible at first! I thought I was never going to get the hang of it. Maybe you had a similar experience when you first learned to drive. But over time, you improved, and you became a competent enough driver.
But once you got to a “good enough” level, you probably stopped improving. I’m in my mid-30s right now, and I don’t think my driving has improved at all in the last decade. I got to the point where I wasn’t receiving speeding tickets or getting into accidents anymore, and that was good enough for me. I didn’t care enough to improve my driving more than that. I didn’t need to be the next Michael Andretti.
The Pattern of Improvement Slow-Down
We tend to follow this pattern in every area of our life. At first, a new task is difficult and we struggle. Over time, the struggle results in improved performance. But once we start getting the hang of it, improvement slows down and finally stops. Once we get comfortable with what we are doing, we don’t improve at all.
You might not care too much about your driving skills, but let’s take a look at another example most people DO care about: your job or career. Think about how good you are at your job. How good are you at what you do? My guess is you’re probably fine. You’re good enough to not get fired. Maybe good enough to get a raise once in a while. But most of us aren’t excellent at our jobs. And if you have been at it for a while, you probably aren’t improving much anymore.
1 Key Lesson from the Science of Expertise
Here is an important finding from the science of expertise: to improve at anything (e.g., health, job, relationships, spiritual life, etc.), you need to work at the edges of your ability. You have to push yourself to the edge of what you are currently capable of doing, and spend a lot of time and energy in that place. Otherwise, you will get into a rut where you won’t see any improvement.
The problem is that this space, at the edges of your ability, isn’t very comfortable. Because you are at the edges, your experience will involve a lot of struggle and failure. If you are a figure skater working on your jumps, for example, working at the edges of your ability will involve a lot of falling on your butt on cold, hard ice. No one likes to fall on their butt. It’s no fun. But to see continued growth and improvement, you have to stay there and embrace the edges.
In order to embrace the edges, humility is key. Humility involves acknowledging and owning our limitations. Instead of trying to avoid our limits, humility encourages us to embrace and engage our limits, fully and without fear. Because humility involves embracing and facing our limits, we are able to spend more time and energy at the edges of our abilities, which is where the magic of growth and change happens.