In 2009 Bre Pettis and Kio Stark wrote The Cult of Done Manifesto, a lean 163-word tract that has rightfully been celebrated around the web. Having spent plenty of time taming my perfectionism and getting stuck in tarpits over the years, as a coach I find The Cult of Done both professionally relevant and personally inspiring. I also think it's an apt metaphor for the coaching process itself.
The Cult of Done Manifesto
1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
In Kurt Lewin and Edgar Schein's 3-stage change process, we start in a "frozen" state, automatically following our existing behavioral patterns ("not knowing"); we "unfreeze" under the appropriate conditions, and our patterns are altered ("taking action"); and we then "refreeze" and enter a new state of automaticity ("completion"). All three states have their place; as exciting and rewarding as can be to change, we can't exist sustainably in an "unfrozen" state, and we need to return to a more predictable set of behavioral patterns. Coaching is about recognizing when our established patterns no longer serve us, take action to initiate change, and returning to a revised set of patterns that help us achieve our goals more effectively.
2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
We're always works in progress; we're never finished products. Accepting that we are drafts helps us accept ourselves, with all our flaws and foibles, without getting stuck. I'm not suggesting that we ignore those shortcomings, but rather that we not let them hold us back from taking active steps toward our goals. Coaching is about looking at life through the lens of the experiential learning process, and from that perspective everything we do is an experiment.
3. There is no editing stage.
But this leads to a paradox: "Everything is a draft," and yet "there is no editing." So even if we look at life as a series of experiments, there are no rehearsals--we're live, every moment of every day, and we never truly get a moment back. We only have one shot at it. This creates a tension that can be exhilarating or paralyzing, and coaching is about how to live productively within this tension.
4. Pretending you know what you're doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you're doing even if you don't and do it.
We're our own worst critics, and we rarely think we know "enough"--often because we're comparing ourselves to someone who knows "more," and we don't want to be accused of hubris. But in many cases if we wait until we know "enough" we'll miss a meaningful opportunity to contribute what we can, and no "expert" is going to come along and save us--we're it. Coaching is about accepting that we're good enough now, and realizing that when we lack confidence in our abilities our behavior shapes our attitude (and sometimes we just need to walk in like we own the place.)
5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
Decide for yourself if a week's time is the right sell-by date for an idea; personally, I let a lot of things gestate for much longer. But I agree with the underlying point when things are going slowly, and we're not making progress toward a goal, picking up momentum is key. Coaching is about generating and maintaining forward progress by abandoning imaginary ideal states, addressing practical realities, navigating around obstacles and finding new paths toward our goals.
6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
It's about the journey, not the destination, and there's no finish line until we're truly finished. (That's not to say we shouldn't celebrate milestones along the way.) Coaching is about letting go of our attachment to an outcome while remaining deeply invested in the process.
7. Once you're done you can throw it away.
So don't build a castle, put up 1,000 tents. Coaching is about rapid-prototyping our lives, experimenting with a range of options, discarding the failures and doubling down on the ones that show promise.
8. Laugh at perfection. It's boring and keeps you from being done.
Perfection is worse than boring; it's stagnation. Perfection rarely motivates, and it often demotivates. It keeps us from accepting "good enough" and making it better. Coaching is about rejecting ideal visions of the perfect--the perfect day, the perfect job, the perfect life, the perfect self--and seeing "the perfect" for what it really is: the enemy of the good.
9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
In the words of The Hold Steady, "Everyone's a critic, and most people are DJs." (video) Stepping up and taking action will always expose us to risk, and so we often choose to play it safe, staying on the sidelines and critiquing the efforts of others. But more often than not the greatest danger we really face is just the risk of embarrassment. Coaching is about overcoming that fear, taking action, and getting our hands dirty.
10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
Seeing our failures and mistakes as learning opportunities is a crucial step in any effort to change and grow. We will screw up, over and over, and every time we do our embarrassment and shame will threaten to overwhelm us. Hall of Fame baseball player Willie Stargell said, "My success is the product of the knowledge extracted from my failures," and coaching is about managing the emotions that spring from our failures and stepping up to the plate again (and again, and again).
11. Destruction is a variant of done.
Sometimes we have to stop what we're doing, head off in a completely different direction, and start from scratch. But that's a costly process to repeat too often, and we may be better served by making more subtle and organic changes. Coaching is about recognizing when we can grow and when we truly need to take a leap.
12. If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
The distance between nothing and something (no matter how flawed) is infinite. In comparison, the distance between that actual something and some theoretical perfection is barely noticeable. Coaching is about doing something, even if it's just a "ghost of done," and using that as the foundation for further action.
13.Done is the engine of more.
And ultimately coaching is about being more fulfilled and more effective. This isn't to say that we need to rely exclusively on a personal coach to achieve these goals; while coaches like me can play a unique and valuable role in the process, we can also learn to self-coach in a wide range of circumstances (and even those of us working directly with a coach need to coach ourselves most of the time.)
Photo by m_dougherty. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.