Defining goals is an important element of good management. Many want to set lofty targets and have a “no limits” attitude. Often we strive to be perfect and I am here to question whether perfectionism is the best goal.
Former minor league pitcher Dirk Hayhurst has written the best “baseball book” to come along in decades, The Bullpen Gospels. In it, he talks about perfectionism: “Perfectionism is a funny thing. It won’t allow you to cut yourself even the tiniest bit of slack. It will insult you when you fail to achieve it and berate and belittle you until until you’re your own worst enemy, an enemy you can never defeat. It’ll make you mad at those who try to tell you positive things. It’ll push people away. In the end, what was once a strong drive to do your best is now a wicked master who’s never satisfied."
Most people will tell you to “get over it” when confronted with perfectionism that has fallen short, and Hayhurst is no exception: “...we all fall short of our mark from time to time. Its how we handle that fall that makes us the players we are. It’s not all about accomplishments, but how we soldier through disappointments...winning and loosing doesn’t make us heroes or failures."
Sports is a good analogy for the importance of the right angle of approach in other walks of life. We have all watched great athletes fail in some important competition and often we attribute this to “the mental game.” But, as Hayhurst says: “...imperfections are part of this game. Beating yourself up doesn’t make you any better at this sport. It just drains you, and sooner or later you start to believe the voice telling you how bad you are.”
I witnessed a good reconciliation of this in an interview with Ryan Zimmerman after the Nationals beat the Braves yesterday. In that game, Zimmerman made two errors (unusual for him) and a reporter asked him about it. He affirmed that he wants to be an aggressive player and that he wants to go all out on every play. To him mistakes are part of the game, “I am not going to change the way I play ball.”
The question I am asking is are we hindering our chances for success by trying to achieve ultimate perfection? Are there better goals than perfection?