February 6, 2007



What does it mean to be "perfect?" In the world of sports, to bowl a perfect game means to throw 12 strikes in a row to score a 300. Is that any easier than shooting a "hole-in-one" in the game of golf, which would be the perfect shot? (Golfers, remember to bring an extra pair of pants with you each time you go golfing, in case you get a hole in one). In baseball, when a pitcher throws a no-hitter, it is considered to be the perfect game. What makes each of these achievements a measure of perfection? Is it because perfection in sports rarely happens? Not necessarily. Consider a 300 game in bowling. During the 2001-2002 season of sanctioned league play, there were 44,363 perfect games recorded. By contrast, during the 1963-1964 season, when there were almost three times as many sanctioned league bowlers, there were 829 perfect games recorded. Bowling the perfect game is no longer a rare occurrence. For any athlete, who strives to be elite, realizing the perfect game is the ideal. With a little bit of luck, and the right equipment, sometimes practice does make perfect. In life, however, practice makes different because NOBODY IS PERFECT!

It is not fair to compare our every day human behavior to isolated incidents within the world of sports. Even though it would be ideal to live the perfect life, one where we never make any mistakes, like a 300 game, hole-in-one or no-hitter, it is unlikely. What is more important is how we define the word, "perfect", in the game of life.

The perfect relationship, for example, is not one where the couple flawlessly connects with each other. How likely is that? Perhaps the perfect relationship is one that has both people supporting each other even when times are bad. The foundation for such a relationship is grounded in love.

Madison Avenue tends to perpetuate irrational ideals for women by suggesting that all women can look like the "perfect" models on TV. This is unrealistic, dangerous and could prove to be fatal if an eating disorder develops!

By literal definition, nobody is perfect. To be perfect means never to make any mistakes. Perfect people have no problems. Life is immaculately executed, day in and day out. The perfect person would never change. How can someone who is perfect ever improve or change? When we are perfect, there is no need to improve or change because we are already perfect!

Here is the typical self-talk of someone who thinks he/she is perfect: "See how great I am! I praise myself because I am so perfect. I can dominate people because I am impeccable. No one can disapprove of me because I am perfect!" PLEASE. STOP! What is it that conditions some of us to believe that we are perfect? From where do these unrealistic expectations emerge? It starts with our thoughts (self-talk), which influence how we feel (invincible, God-like, superior), which eventually filters down to our actions (maladaptively compulsive, self-defeating and always unduly fussing over details, be it at work, with the car or home, etc.).

Perfectionism is an ideal, something for which to strive, but never really getting there. To be perfect and to have perfectionistic traits are two different things. For example, it is good to find a dentist who is a perfectionist, one who does their professional best when working in a patient's mouth. Engineers who work to build things are compelled to use their skills in near perfect ways. It is good to build a bridge that has as few flaws as possible so it is safe for people to cross. We can pick any profession and say the same thing: STRIVE FOR EXCELLENCE! However, that root canal or freeway overpass can only be near perfect, based on the literal definition of the word, "perfect."

We could go to any Obstetrics ward at any hospital to look at all the babies. Guess what we would find, and what we might say: "Look at each of those babies. They're beautiful!" Yes, each baby is beautiful. Each is one of a kind, unique. Some will be good at math, others at music. If we lived in a perfect world, each would be good at math, music and everything else. Each baby would be perfect. Of course, in the eyes of the mom and dad, each baby is perfect. Based on that definition of the word, there is no argument. However, to really be perfect means we would know all about everything.

Yes, perfection is an unattainable goal, but striving for EXCELLENCE is possible. Striving for excellence demands a lot of practice. It also means we may need to problem solve differently if what we are doing is not working. We can learn to make positive choices, ones that promote the welfare of our society, community, relationships and ourselves.

Take for example Mr. Tom Izzo, basketball coach for the 2000 NCAA National Champions, Michigan State Spartans. Under Tom Izzo's leadership, the team's win-loss record was initially bleak, leaning toward more losses than wins, until Izzo re-evaluated his style of team building. A staff meeting was called by Izzo to discuss a new game plan. One might think that only the coaching staff and players attended the meeting. Think again. Izzo invited the players, coaching staff, secretaries and even the janitor. What could the janitor do to help the team? Izzo asked the janitor to keep the gym door propped-open late at night so the team could PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. The strategy worked. Izzo now proclaims to have the only janitor on staff who wears a National Championship ring! The basketball team became number one in the nation in the year 2000 because of team building and PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Practice does make different.

When else does practice make different? Children who read more than they watch TV universally do better in school. The kids who watch TV more than they read are generally the ones who get lower grades in school. Reading a lot won't guarantee perfect grades, but the grades are universally better than the students who watch a lot of TV. Practice makes different.

Someone who is satisfied with the status quo in life is someone who is generally not goal-directed toward self-improvement. This type of person might think, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." On the other hand, someone who seeks to do better with their life has a different self-perception: "If it ain't broke, look harder!" Something can always be fixed to be made different. This is because life is neutral, not perfect. We get out of life what we put into it.

How can we increase our level of satisfaction with life? Choose a goal and then PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. By doing that, even though we won't achieve perfection, the results will be different. I think it makes life more interesting and less boring.


Written by,
Mark S. Rogers, LPC.
Licensed Professional Counselor
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