Nothing Happens Quickly

When we fail to meet these overly ambitious deadlines, we become depressed and give up.

In 2017, Jeff Bezos wrote his annual letter to shareholders centered on the theme of high standards. “How do we continue to reach a higher level of service to our customers?” he asked. The letter began with the foundational question of whether high standards are intrinsic or teachable. Bezos then argued that achieving high standards is, indeed, teachable if people are willing to endure the test of time and not capitulate to the first instance of negativity. He then shared a powerful personal anecdote: 

“A close friend recently decided to learn to do a perfect free-standing handstand. No leaning against a wall. Not for just a few seconds. Instagram good. She decided to start her journey by taking a handstand workshop at her yoga studio. She then practiced for a while but wasn’t getting the results she wanted. So, she hired a handstand coach. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but evidently, this is an actual thing that exists. In the very first lesson, the coach gave her some wonderful advice. ‘Most people,’ he said, ‘think that if they work hard, they should be able to master a handstand in about two weeks. The reality is that it takes about six months of daily practice. If you think you should be able to do it in two weeks, you’re just going to end up quitting.’ Unrealistic beliefs on scope – often hidden and undiscussed – kill high standards. To achieve high standards yourself or as part of a team, you need to form and proactively communicate realistic beliefs about how hard something is going to be – something this coach understood well.’”

We all know people who set unrealistic goals that could never be achieved by their arbitrary deadlines. Lose 50 pounds in five days, not happening. Become a head coach at a major college by 28 could occur, but it’s fairly implausible. And yet, when we fail to meet these overly ambitious deadlines, we become depressed and give up altogether. It’s the exact thing Bezos tells his people not to do. Becoming a company with the highest standards is an every day challenge with no specific timeline, the same way having great health is an ongoing desire requiring daily self-discipline.

As we prepare to enter the new year with many goals to make 2021 better than 2020, let’s think about Bezos' advice and give ourselves enough time to achieve our ambitions, with no expectations that transformation will come overnight. Consistency over time will allow us to trust our behaviors and elevate our personal standards. We can take the first step today.


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