Crap, I thought out loud. I’m on the losing team. Fantastic. This is NOT what I signed up for!
It was Opening Day of the Adult Kickball Fall season and half my team didn’t even show up. The other half that did show up were, shall we say, a little woozy from their morning mimosas. I have nothing against mimosas for breakfast, but I’m not a big fan of losing, and I hateforfeiting. As I started to get worked up and frustrated with the prospect of being the Houston Astros of the kickball league, I was saved by a simple rhetorical question, a turtle and a boxer.
The Green-Eyed Perspective on One’s Relationship with One’s Goals
I’ve seen it on posters in high school and heard it in song lyrics: “Aim for the moon! If you miss you’ll be on top of the world, among the stars.” That’s just swell, but what if missing the moon isn’t acceptable? If you’re a doctor or a lifeguard or maybe even a professional athlete, there are times when “missing the moon” doesn’t cut it. Yoda knew better: “Do or do not. There is no try.” So either you succeed, or you don’t. No one understands the weight of this concept better than the Perfectionist.
As a former competitive gymnast, I’ve dedicated almost 8 years of my life toward the textbook definition of “perfection” – a Perfect 10*. Oh sure, there are many times gymnasts win without scoring a perfect 10. Whether that counts as hitting or missing the moon depends on your perspective. Regardless, getting that perfect score is the ultimate goal. It says “You’re the best” instead of “You’re better than anyone here.” This line of thinking is why being a perfectionist is such a slippery slope. Now psychology tells us it’s more of a balancing act.
(*If you’re a gymnast, let’s just skip over the fact that the FIG changed the scoring system to the complicated scoring mess devoid of the very hallmark of our sport). Assessment of New Scoring System by Mathematician – Slate Magazine
Nowadays psychologists have delved into the mind of the perfectionist, offering in-depth analysis on what drives perfectionism, how to cope with it, and why it motivates some and crushes others. To truly understand the consequences of aiming for the moon, we need to understand the difference between perfectionistic strivings and perfectionistic concerns.
In the chapter “Perfection and Performance” from the Oxford Handbook of Sport and Performance Psychology, Joachim Stoeber explains the difference between these two dimensions of perfectionism. Simply put, perfectionistic strivings involve setting exceedingly high standards of performance (ahem, aiming for the moon); perfectionistic concerns involve fear of making mistakes and feelings of inadequacy.
The Risks and Rewards of Aiming for the Moon
There are times when aiming for the moon can be beneficial. Raising the bar for yourself often makes you push yourself harder and farther than you’d otherwise settle for. Aiming high encourages us to get good grades, to push toward a better PR, to go for that better job, to talk to that cute guy across the hall, etc.
|AP Photo/The Sacramento Bee, Hector Amezcua|
However, if your perfectionist concerns outweigh your perfectionistic strivings then missing those goals can be a harsh experience. Blinded by all the ways you fell short of your goal, you can’t see or admire how much you have achieved.
Time for a new strategy – a “paradigm shift” if you will (you’re welcome, Steven Covey fans).
Aiming for the Dust
There are probably few teachers or coaches who would advise their pupils to aim low (that is, unless you’re a football coach, apparently). But here’s the beauty of aiming low – you’re more likely to celebrate your victory. What if the goal wasn’t to run the farthest and the fastest, but to run instead of skipping the workout entirely? What if the goal wasn’t to lose weight but just to sweat? What if the goal wasn’t to win, but to play?
Alas, this is where my rhetorical question surfaced, changing my whole outlook for the opening day of kickball. What DID I sign up for? I suppose I signed up to be physically active, to have fun and meet as many new friends as possible. All three of those goals were still achievable, but only if I let go of my competitive drive and near-insatiable craving for the win. With these new goals (and some extra players from another team) I was able to enjoy the game itself. Even though my team fulfilled the kickball league newsletter’s predictions of going 0-for-2, the day itself was not a loss.
Moral of the story – brought to you by a turtle and a boxer
The key to success, it seems, is to find that balance that suits you best – that balance between aiming high and aiming low. If you always aim high, fear of failure can keep you from trying new activities, and missing any of your goals may keep you from celebrating the effort itself. Then again, if you always aim low you’ll never truly understand how much you could have achieved. There’s a reason Shaun T. says “The work doesn’t start until you get tired.” Furthermore, always expecting to achieve the bare minimum or constantly anticipating the setbacks can suck the fun out of life. Have you even felt true happiness only to have it scattered by the expectation for the other shoe to drop?
Step one is to enjoy the process en route to achieving the goal. Maybe the people you meet in your first semester of college will be the friends that stick with you throughout your adult life. Or maybe they won’t. Maybe you’ll make partner by 40, maybe you’ll be married by 30, but maybe you won’t. It’s good to plan for the future, sure, and preparing for the worst can be helpful, but it can also be a giant leech on your happiness. In other words, instead of freaking out about having a losing record the whole season, how about I just enjoy each game?
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it’s called the ‘present’. – Master Oogway, Kung Fu Panda
|No really, Oogway said it before J.T.|
Step two is to set those goals high**, embrace those perfectionistic strivings, but to also accept the act of stepping “into the arena” as the victory itself.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. – Theodore Roosevelt
**If you’re thinking “Oh crap, I don’t know what my goals are!”…
Stay tuned for Part Two of The Green-Eyed Perspective on One’s Relationship with One’s Goals