Have you ever said this to someone? Your child maybe? It’s meant to be an encouragement right? Letting someone know that if they practice long enough and hard enough they can achieve great things.
Or maybe you’re like me. Maybe you heard it countless times as a child and now have it ingrained in you to the point where it’s a monotonous litany playing in your head every time you try to accomplish even the most mundane tasks.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with encouraging anyone to not give up on something. We should practice. It is only through repetition that we will become comfortable enough with something that it becomes second nature.
But perfect? Should we really strive for perfection? Should we really put that pressure on anyone, including ourselves?
I’m not sure what it is, but I figured out a while ago that I just don’t have perfect in me anymore. I tried. I failed – miserably at times – and in the process became an anxiety-ridden horror show.
I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. No one is perfect. And no amount of practice at anything is ever going to change that. It’s kind of like asking an employee to be excellent at multitasking. Not possible.
If you don’t believe me, try to think of two separate things at once. Or better yet, do a complex math problem and type an email at the same time. The same time, not one right after the other, simultaneously. Again, not possible. We’re not wired that way.
But that’s another post. Now I’m talking about encouraging people to attain perfection. I’ll give you an example of how soul-crushing that can be.
I was always a chubby kid. I never really liked to move, not fast anyway. So gym class was always a challenge. But when it came to tumbling I was a nervous wreck. I came to the conclusion that if we were supposed to flip over then we would be walking on our hands instead of our feet, but of course everyone laughed at me and couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. Why was I so afraid of doing a somersault?
Well, I’ll tell you. I’ve always been claustrophobic. So whenever anything got near my face I would panic. Whenever I would attempt a somersault with my head tucked into my chest – you know, so I wouldn’t break my neck – I was overcome with the sense that I wasn’t getting enough air.Then there was the feeling of my body flipping over on itself. I had fallen down enough by that point to know that feeling of falling wasn’t pleasant. I used to fall down a lot.
But one year my gym teacher told me that if I didn’t do a somersault I would fail gym class. Getting an ‘F’ in school was not permitted in my house. It just wasn’t allowed. And I get it. We need standards. Children need standards. But that’s not the point.
The point is, I practiced. I did somersaults in my room everyday for weeks. I willed myself to forget all about the panic and fear. And I really thought I was getting over my claustrophobia.
Then the day came. All of my classmates were tumbling and cartwheeling all over the gym even if it wasn’t their turn. I was nervous, but confident. I had done countless somersaults in my room. I knew what I was doing. I had practiced…
So the moment came and I stepped up to the mat. And I stood there. I could feel everyone’s eyes on me. My gym teacher said something but I never knew what it was because of the roar of my blood in my ears.
I knew in that moment that doing a somersault was the last thing I ever wanted to do again and no amount of practice was ever going to change that. After several moments I was able to summon the courage to at least attempt a somersault, but if I remember correctly it was more like I tucked my head and rolled over on my side until I got to the end of the mat.
It was an excruciatingly humiliating experience. I guess I should just be thankful that I had so many other ones in school that this one was forgotten rather quickly. My gym teacher also took pity on me and gave me a ‘C’ because I at least tried.
A ‘C’ wasn’t really acceptable in my house either, but it was still better than failing.
As an adult I’ve figured out that life is full of things I’d rather not do. Being responsible demands it. And for the most part I get it. I like being responsible. I like tackling the hard stuff. I like growing and learning new things.
I push past the fear. But perfection, nope. I’m not going to ever waste my time again striving for something I can’t possibly hope to attain. It puts an inordinate amount of stress on me and sets me up to fail.
So I want to change the phrase ‘Practice Makes Perfect’ to ‘Practice Makes Efficient’ or ‘Practice Makes Effective’. Or how about ‘Practice Makes Better’?
Any thoughts or suggestions?