January 20, 2014
The Blessing of Inadequacy by Daryl Leisey
Is it important to optimize every moment? The obvious answer is yes, isn’t it? We’ve been taught to do our best, maximize every opportunity, strive for perfection. But is that always the best? Perhaps we’re just not capable of what we set out to do. Or perhaps something more can come from a less than optimal situation. Maybe our inadequacy has potential for greater impact on ourselves and those around us.
When I was growing up, my father had a bread route where he went door-to-door selling bread and other baked goods. Often I would ride with him on a Saturday. One day when I was a teenager, he asked me if I would “finish up” the route so he could attend an event. We started the day together and mid-afternoon my mother picked him up. For the first time, I was on my own.
The panel van was a stick shift, the doors were open and a large basket displayed all the baked goods inside the open door on the passenger side. As I came to a stop sign at the top of the hill, I let out the clutch a little too fast. As the truck jerked forward, I watched the three-tiered metal basket and all the baked goods (and my dad’s profits) go flying out the open door.
I stopped and viewed the damage. Everything was clearly dented and misshapen – but still in its package. Now what? What should I do? I wasn’t able to ask my dad.
My next stop was the last stop for the day. I decided to see if the customer would be interested in a deal. Half price on all damaged goods. It turned out to be a large family and they appreciated the bargains.
Would Dad have done things differently? I’m not sure. He probably lost money, but maybe not. When we connected later that evening and I told him what happened, he thanked me for stepping in, thinking through the options and making a decision.
I learned a lot that day. One of the lessons may have been that inadequacy can be a blessing.
As a father, at times I’ve chosen to let my children participate in projects that would have been easier for me to do and get done right. That would optimize my time. But it would rob them of the opportunity to learn.
Instead of looking at inadequacy as “less than,” as leaders it can be important to admit and embrace our inadequacies. Of course we want to do our best, but sometimes our need to optimize can prevent us from trying something new because we may fail. And as we notice inadequacies in others, we may intentionally need to step aside (not walk off in a huff) in order for others to grow and flourish. This may seem inefficient, but it can be necessary and powerful. In fact, it can be optimization!