I enjoy playing tennis. Not only does the sport provide me with the physical need I have for exercise, it also teaches me valuable life lessons.
Recently, I have been learning about our futile human need to be perfect. My most recent teacher for this lesson is my good friend John. Among all the men I play tennis with, John is one of the best. He doesn’t just hit the ball back at you; he does so with precision and intention. Yet, just like Rafa, Fed and Djokovic, John will hit an errand shot. Rarely do you ever see my friend get frustrated with his lack of execution, but, despite his consistently great skill, he will occasionally denigrate himself by yelling,
I am nowhere near as talented a player as him, so it is not unusual for me to make a mistake on a critical point. My frustration displays are much worse than John’s, for I will mutter f-bombs to accompany my personal denunciation. The phrase I am most attached to when I make a mistake is;
“You f – – king moron.”
What is it that causes us to expect perfection from ourselves? I believe this is mostly due from the way we were raised. Maybe our parents inadvertently highlighted our mistakes and not our successes. Perhaps we competed to best our siblings and were frustrated from losing to them all of the time. The myriad possibilities that helped us develop this sense of inadequacy are as many as the stars in the sky.
Sports is not the only arena where we replace our best efforts with feelings of inadequacy for not being impeccable, we chase perfection in many other areas as well.
There is no such thing as perfection
Perfection is an illusion. It provides a false measure we use to convince ourselves that what we do is never good enough. It is an impossible goal our ego has learned to impose so it can scorn us, encourage our comparison with others or make us give up. These little voices (or thoughts) in your head are not for you.
Beauty is in the beholder’s eye, so it follows that the perfect embodiment of something is also based on one’s judgement. A critical mind will find something wrong with anything it wants to. Therefore, the “pursuit of perfection” is the enemy of the good and of the great because it can never be achieved.
Whenever I choose these thoughts, I know I am doing so out of an old habit to please my emotionally distant dad, convince my high school counselor that someday I would amount to something or show a competitor I was better than him/her. My list also includes pleasing romantic partners, bosses and colleagues. This is not a healthy way to live. Recalling the example of my tennis friend John, he is not an idiot for missing a tennis shot; he is an idiot for believing that he should never miss. This is the lesson for us.
Instead of listening to the voices inside your head that condition you to believe you are not good enough, try choosing the alternative thoughts. They are easy to identify for they are the ones that are always encouraging you to learn and grow. They are the ones that support you with love and remind you that you are special and worthy of love. Perfection is a lie that adults put in front of us knowing we would never reach it. They did not do this maliciously; they were doing thinking this was a motivator to that would always keep us getting better.
Life for me today is not about perfection at all, it is about knowing I gave my best effort and that I tried to be the finest person I could be. Like you, I have to do this within my rhythm, talents and pace. Just like with my tennis game, some days I do better than others, but that does not make me a “f – – king moron”. Your mistakes don’t make you that either.
As always, wishing you a life filled with joy, love and serenity.