Even a Perfect Game is Imperfect

To throw a perfect game in the Major Leagues is a herculean task.  There have only been 23 perfect games in the 140-year history of Major League baseball.  Yet, those pitchers will all tell you, their “perfect” game, was far from perfect.  Every pitch didn’t go exactly where they wanted.  They didn’t strike out all 27 hitters, and they probably had tons of help from their fielders.

“Perfection, by definition, is an impossible goal,” says Social Psychologist Thomas Curran.  According to his latest research into perfection, “perfection is simply unattainable — especially over the long run.”  Worse, according to Curran, “for a perfectionist, failure is catastrophic.”

I know that was true for me in my baseball career.  If you are constantly striving to be perfect, that very goal may well be causing you to fail.  Why? With the goal of perfection, any little mistake feels like failure and that drains your confidence.  When you start losing confidence you stop taking risks and stop trying new things that will help you improve or get out of a tough situation.

Imperfection Leads To Success

Every year teams have spring training games, and those games are like try-outs for the season. Spring training only lasts a month, so you have a very limited opportunity to pitch. During those years I believed every pitch needed to be perfect.  No pressure, right?   Each pitch that wasn’t perfect chipped away at my confidence, and I started only using my best pitches.  The problem with that was then the batters figured out my plan and adjusted accordingly!

I had stopped taking risks and trying to innovate with different pitches.  I became predictable and easier to hit.  In 1998 the Tampa Bay Devil Rays Manager told me not to worry about spring training.  He told me I was on the team before the spring training games even started, which was a huge gift for me.  That coach allowed me to start taking risks again and be more innovative with my pitching.  He gave me Psychological Safety , the belief that it is safe to take risks on a team.  I was able try new things and I developed into the pitcher I wanted to be.

“I never competed against athletes.  I competed against perfection”
Carl Lewis

True In Business?

Beating yourself up for mistakes whenever you make one and rarely taking risks is a sure sign you have your sights on the impossible.  If you go to work every day trying to be “perfect,” you are probably making yourself miserable.

You might be thinking, “but in my job, I can’t make any mistakes.”  Let’s look at a surgeon’s job. They must be perfect, every time, right?  Well, EVERY surgery doesn’t go perfectly or exactly as planned so  when things do go wrong, the surgeon depends on their ability to be able to innovate in the moment, and they depend on their team to back them up and help.

In business, despite our best efforts things do go wrong sometimes, and things are always changing.  How you handle those mistakes and how quickly you are able to adapt and innovate as things change can have a huge impact on your career and your health.

Excellence Over Perfection

Do you strive for perfection?  If you do, consider striving for excellence instead! You are GOING to make mistakes.  If you allow yourself to learn from your mistakes and move forward, taking the lesson with you, not the mistake, you will gain more confidence and learn to become more innovative when you need to be.

Just like in my spring training days, when you only do what you are the very best at, stop taking risks when you need to, you stop growing.  Things remain status quo (if you are lucky).  But status quo never leads to success.

Things to Consider When Perfection Rears Its Ugly Head

  1. Excellence over Perfection
  2. Start taking small risks, like going to the gym, it will develop your risk-taking muscles.
  3. Inaction saps confidence.
  4. Expect mistakes- you will make them so don’t let them surprise you.
  5. Have a short-term memory – don’t bring mistakes forward, just the lessons!
  6. Perfection doesn’t mean you work the hardest, it means you worry the hardest.
  7. Mistakes aren’t failures- failure only occurs when you quit