We’re told to shoot for the stars, to set scary goals, to dream big, to go big or go home. When it comes to striving for success, we focus on raising the ceiling; doing something that we haven’t done before; setting a new personal record. Our focus tends to be on being great.
Comedian and actor Steve Martin once told aspiring performers, “Anyone can be great. There’s always a night when you’re on it. But what about the next night when you don’t have that hot audience and you’ve got to be just good. That’s the hard part.”
We’ve all experienced this counter-intuitive phenomenon. The running race when it was effortless and painless to run at speeds far faster than normal. The time you stood on stage, whether to give a speech or play music, when everything just flowed along and came naturally. The time you sat down at your desk to write and the words poured onto the page.
These times when the world aligns and what was once difficult becomes easy are moments we hold on to. They’ve been called experiencing a “flow” or “peak” state. They are also fleeting, few and far between. Perhaps you experience this once or twice a season or every 50 or so performances. What do you do the rest of the time?
Being great is easy, being good is harder.
When it comes to performance, our focus and goals are on raising the ceiling. What’s the best performance that we can give? In running, the sport I know best, we define ourselves by our best performance in history, our personal record.
But what makes greatness isn’t one-off performances, it’s consistency. It’s raising the floor. So that night after night, when we show up on our stage – be it a real one, or our office – there’s a baseline that we can expect. We know we are going to be pretty darn good, even if the stars don’t align and we have to figure our way through the doubts, nerves, and foggy brain that happens when it doesn’t all come together naturally.
Raising the floor isn’t about forgetting those peak performances; it’s about consistently putting yourself in a position where if the stars align and it’s one of those days, you can vault off of a stable platform, a high-enough floor, and achieve something great.
Confidence comes from having a higher floor. Great performances might seem like they give you confidence, but it’s of the fleeting type. Confidence comes from consistency. It’s walking on to the stage and knowing that no matter what is thrown at you, you’re going to show up and be pretty darn good. Focus on raising the floor, not just the ceiling.