Jack of All Trades Master of None Perfectionism
My book The Athlete within You is almost ready to go to press. It was a long journey. It is interesting how I feel about it. Writing over the years has been a real pain in the ass for me. Call it perfectionism, fear of failure or whatever you would like. When I was in graduate school back in Virginia we had a discussion about this very topic. The gist of it was that my professors laughed at the idea that I was a perfectionist. They said, as I obviously put so little effort into my technical writing, that while perhaps I feared failure, I was just a lazy, though brilliant, student.
Over the years working with many people, I have determined in my own lazy, but brilliant way, that as I thought back then, they were way off base. I think people can become so perfectionistic that rather than attempt to do something to their own unreachable standards, they just shut down. Moreover, because they fear failure, the move on to another activity. When they find success there and start to master that area of their life, they may become once again caught up in this cycle of perfectionism and fear of failure. Perhaps this is where we find the saying Jack-Of-All-Trades, Master of None. (please comment at the end with your Perfectionism stories)
The fear of failure aspect is just part of normal attribution theory in that a person reaches a certain level through natural talent and sometimes because they do not attribute success to work and talent, they begin to become uncomfortable with their lack of success. This leads them to decide the activity or their own ability lacks worth and they move on. I think the same thing can be said for someone that is perfectionistic as well.
The perfectionist views a task, like writing or playing basketball, with a view that they should be able to accomplish something based on their ability and work. Though they may believe in success through hard work, they toil over what success actual means to them. They struggle with making sure every sentence is right grammatically and in making a point. Words should not be wasted. Mark Twain once apologized to a friend by saying “if I had more time, this letter would be shorter”. For a basketball player, perfectionism is a tough. If every shot should go in there, is an obvious issue. In baseball, the best hitters in the Major Leagues hit just over .300. That means they fail seven out of ten times they step to the plate. Failing this often can be a problem. I have seen parents and youth coaches really hammer their players when they fail to get a hit. For some athletes this teaches them to not only fear failure, but to feel like nothing but perfection will satisfy them.
The combination of both of these attributes certainly contributes to a person drifting from one thing to another. Usually they are good at what they do, but cannot seem to make themselves remain dedicated to their goal. The closer they get, the higher the expectation to be perfect. The harder they work and not reach perfection, the more they fear failure and the unreasonable expectation for success (only measured by perfection).
I realize that I very often post things where I spend a great deal of time explaining an issue and a very short explanation for a solution. So this is part one of two. Next post will look at ways to help someone or yourself over this kind of issue. You cannot expect it to be an easy task. That would be unreasonable, you might say perfectionistic. So from one that has been known most of his life in sport as a Jack of All Trades, I’ll be back with suggestions on overcoming perfectionism without giving up a need for achievement.
What I would like is for people to share their perfectionism stories. Let’s look and see if there are common treads. It will be fun and of course we put ourselves at risk by sharing something of our vulnerability. But that after all is what this blog is all about. So forget about shame, leave fear behind. Share and help others understand perfectionism, from your own experiences.