Last week, I mentioned the fact that success in any endeavor comes about through PROGRESS and is not achieved in PERFECTION. The main reason for this is simply the fact that Perfection, by its very definition is Unattainable. If something were Perfect, then there would be no need to improve or grow, change or develop.
In fact, we know that the entire life of a human being is one of Progress, and not Perfection. From birth to death, life is a continual process of learning and growing. Some clearly learn more than others, some more quickly, but the fact remains that no one on earth is – or ever will be – perfect. So then why do we so often get caught up chasing after that which we can never gain?
In the following post, I’ll go over 4 common misconceptions about Perfection and why we so readily chase it. Then, I’ll present 4 contrasting ideas about Progress and why we need to spend our time focusing on those rather than the others.
#1: Perfection is NOT Attainable
For starters, let’s all just agree that Perfection is absolutely unattainable. Take a look again at the Usain Bolt ad at the beginning of this post. Bolt is clearly the fastest man on earth. He’s at the top of his game, and at the top of the pack. And yet, he has broken his own world record already twice.
- 9.72s (2008 Reebok Grand Prix)
- 9.69s (2008 Beijing Summer Olympics)
- 9.58s (2009 IAAF World Championships, Berlin)
What do you suppose runs through Bolt’s brain after breaking a new World Record? If he thought, “Perfection! Sheer Perfection!” then what would motivate him to try and run faster the next time? And that very thought is itself a lie. Clearly his previous records were NOT “Perfection” or they would have been unbeatable. Yet he beat them himself.
So then what is Perfection? How fast is Perfect? How fast is Unbeatable? Bolt will run to the end of his life and never achieve Perfection – and others will come after him who break his records and set new ones.
Lesson: Strive for Excellence, not Perfection.
#2: Perfection is NOT Beneficial
Just as Perfection is an impossible mark, it’s also detrimental to success.
Imagine for a moment that Usain Bolt had actually achieved Perfection – and everybody knew it. Imagine there was one specific key time faster than which no one could ever possibly run. Once he reached that mark, what would there be left to strive for? What would other runners have to strive for? If all they could ever reach was that one particular mark beyond which there was eternal impossibility, wouldn’t that kill everyone’s drive for improvement?
Or take another example in the form of this Apple commercial:
The key phrase in this commercial is:
We simplify, we perfect, we start over.
If Apple truly believed in Perfection, there would be no more starting over. Their best product would be their last product. Beyond Perfection, nothing further is attainable. The company would shut down, leaving behind a legacy of a limited number of Excellent products until at last reaching the one final product that would be their Perfection and Death.
Lesson: Strive for Continual Improvement, not Perfection.
#3: Perfection is NOT Sustainable
Perfection, by its very definition is unsustainable. Perfection is the pinnacle, the peak of achievement, the top point of the Mt. Everest of human endeavor. By its very definition, the peak is a single point. There is no continuation. There is no further stepping stone to more, and greater, and better. Perfection is the End. Perfection is Death.
Life is in continual motion. We are constantly moving and growing and changing and learning. A life that is not in motion is dead.
A life in motion is filled with ups and downs. There is sickness and health; happiness and sadness; love and hate; growth and brokenness; hills and valleys; peaks and potholes. What happens when you reach one? You will inevitably progress toward the other – life is a cycle.
Some valleys last longer than others; some peaks last longer than others, but so long as you are alive, you will never remain at one or the other forever. If you did, you would be dead. Death is not itself Perfection, but Perfection is Death because Perfection implies the Final End of something.
Lesson: Seek Growth in your Valleys and on your Peaks, not Perfection.
#4: Perfection is actually NOT Final
Understand that striving for Perfection leads you to the Arrival Fallacy.
The Arrival Fallacy is the idea that:
Once I do that one thing, once I accomplish that one goal, or once I make that one sale, I will have “arrived” and life from then on will be “Perfect.”
What’s your personal glass ceiling? What’s the “wall” that you’re striving to overcome that you think on the other side rests perfection? Here’s a little secret: once you get to the top, you’ll see another wall to climb a little further on, then another, and another. It’s like climbing to the top of one mountain only to find a range of mountains further on.
The truth is, you’ll never “arrive.” You’ll never achieve “Perfection.” Even in death, there is no Perfection.
J.R.R. Tolkien has penned a wonderful short story – Leaf by Niggle – that brilliantly illustrates this point.
Niggle is a painter who sets about to paint his greatest masterpiece – a majestic tree in the middle of a glorious forest. He paints so beautifully, so wonderfully, and so obsessively about each leaf of the tree that he never actually finishes his greatest work.
During his painting time, distractions and obligations and helping his neighbor Parish draw him away from his work for periods. But eventually, he must take a long trip from which he will never return (he dies), leaving his painting unfinished at home.
His journey eventually takes him to the country of the Tree he had been painting – and he finally sees his vision so clearly, so fully, so Perfectly realized. It is far more majestic than the single leaf of his original painting that remains (now hanging in the local museum). But as he walks on, he notices even more majestic trees farther in the background that he’d only just glimpsed before, and he journeys on.
Lesson: Perfection itself is not a destination. The Quest for Perfection is Neverending.
So then, in everything, seek Progress, not Perfection. Here’s another key difference to understand about Progress and Perfection:
- Perfection asks us to measure ourselves against others to judge which is best.
- Progress asks us to measure ourselves against past versions of ourselves to judge which is better.
Strive each day for improvement and personal betterment. Yourself as you are now is not the best version of you. Strive for better. Here are 4 things your striving for Progress must be in order for you to succeed:
- Progress must be Visible: You (and others) must SEE a (visible) change or you will be disheartened and give up.
- Progress must be Measurable: Numbers give depth to appearance. The change you SEE must also be tested and measured in order to be considered “real.”
- Progress should be Forward: Everything on earth – organizations, people, even landscapes – are constantly changing. They are either growing with life and forward progress, or growing toward death. How are you growing?
- Progress should be Continual: Never stop growing. Never stop learning. Never stop striving. To stop is to die. Even if you “fail” today, pick yourself up, learn your lesson, and get on with it.
Want to learn HOW to make Continual Progress? Join me again next week as I talk about reducing the Scope of your efforts before relinquishing your Schedule.