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  • Mark Cheney

What a tailor can teach us about performance

Updated: May 29


The last time I reached for one of my suits, I found that it was full of moth holes. I typically (okay, always) buy my clothes off the rack. Lately, I’ve come to know a tailor, so I decided that it was the time to visit his shop. In my mind, I had a certain idea about how it would work. I would get measured, pick out a suit, and then it would get tweaked to fit me. It would be a fairly quick process, and I would be on my way. Turns out, my tailor had much to teach me, not just about suits, but about human performance.

Lesson 1. People are imperfect. Now, it’s readily evident to those who know me that I am not perfect, but I found new imperfections after meeting my tailor. My right shoulder sits lower than my left shoulder. One arm is ½” longer than the other. When I looked surprised (and probably dismayed), my tailor assured me that it was all very common. Most people, in fact, are asymmetrical and don’t fall into the standard sizes you get at an off-the-rack retailer. All too often, we believe that everyone around us has the right balance and proportion, when they don’t. Nobody is perfect, and we would do well to remember that.

Lesson 2. I am not what I thought I was. 43L suit coat. 16 ½-36 shirt. 34-30 pants. At least that’s what I thought. I was not close. I’m lean and long-armed, and buying clothes off the rack that were long enough frequently led to clothes that had too much girth. Turns out I’m closer to a 40 XL for the coat, 16-36 in the shirt, and 35-31 pants. Sometimes we have an image of what we are, which drives what we do. If that image is incorrect, then the choices we make will be, too. What we need is an honest and accurate assessment, and that’s frequently best done by someone other than ourselves.

Lesson 3. You can’t measure yourself. My tailor made multiple measurements that would have been impossible for me to do myself. There is no way I could have contorted my arms to measure all of my dimensions. On top of that, he made measurements that I didn’t even realize were part of the process. With an independent, objective observer, we have the chance to gain a true picture of ourselves, our capabilities, and our needs. Find a person who can measure you.

Lesson 4. It takes time and work to get the right fit. Rather than solely rely on the initial measurements, a good tailor will take you through at least three fittings of a suit. At each stage of its construction, he will fit and adjust the suit so that it fits the individual perfectly. Likewise, it takes time to find the right combination of factors that lead to success. We may need to try an approach, tweak it, try it again, and tweak it until it fits. The refining process is what leads to the perfect fit, and that can’t be rushed.

Lesson 5. There’s nothing like the right fit. Let me tell you, a fitted shirt makes me never want to buy off the rack again. It flat out looks and feels better. The same can be said for our performance. Once you find that perfect combination of keys to peak performance, you’ll never want to revert back to a generic, unspecialized approach. It is worth the investment to work with a mental coach. You’ll like the way you look, feel, and perform.


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