Last month, I wrote about what to do when we’re in a rut. That blog received a lot of attention and direct emails, reinforcing how universal this experience is. Thank you to so many for sharing that you were feeling the same, and how empowering it felt to say those words out loud (or an email): I am in a rut, and it is OK!

I agree! It’s so easy and normal to find ourselves lost in the daily routine of our work and forgetting to take joy or pride in that work — but beating ourselves up for it is not the answer. We often talk about kindness and grace in our work, for those we love, and in the world, but I find that few I speak with are actually giving themselves that kindness and grace.

I’ve had so many discussions around why we put so much pressure on ourselves to keep reaching new levels of excellence, how we only settle for 100% from ourselves, how we feel unsuccessful or defeated when we do not complete our to-do lists. But none of this is healthy, and it doesn’t work either.

Our overachieving selves need to start looking at this through another lens: Many of us are in higher education, where an “A” is 90%. And I suggest that we might want to use that same grading pattern for our teams, our work, and ourselves. Achieving an “A” is a source of pride, but rarely does that “A” reflect a score of 100%.

Every day I talk with individuals who are hitting 90% plus, and yet I hear about what they do not get to, what they’re disappointed by in their own performance. But when I think of “A” students, I think of an ability to prioritize the most important work, not to add a myriad of other topics to the curriculum.

In advancement work, focus and discipline on the right things lead to success. Which is why rather than trying to achieve 100%, we would be better served to focus on our most important tasks, be honest about the things that do not meet that definition, and then aim for that 90% “A.” And let’s celebrate every achievement on the way: The cold outreach, even though some of it will go unacknowledged — it’s still critically important for building pipeline! The disqualification of a prospect for major giving — they’ll still feel more connected in the support they do provide. And so many more opportunities to find and celebrate our success along the way.

I suspect that redefining how we give ourselves an “A” will help so many of us feel much better about our achievements and truly focus on our most important work: advancing relationships that lead to generosity. And isn’t that what this is all about?

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