perfection and reality

My friend Kate sent me this image she found on Super Great and I think it perfectly encapsulates what I’ve been working through since revisiting The Pursuit of Perfect. In the book the author, Tal, explains the difference between a Perfectionist and an Optimalist. A Perfectionist will decide what a perfect course of action would be and refuses to allow any deviation from the straight path towards success. While an Optimalist is someone who takes reality and current situations into account and works within real-life possibilities, doing they best they can at any given moment.

Often, the course of an Optimalist is staggered, imperfect, winding, confusing, or even delayed. It can be as squiggly as the line above. But the strength of the Optimal approach is that it lives within Real Life while the Perfect line is an imaginary ideal. The Optimal way is often simply much more possible.

A fantastic example of the Optimal vs. Perfect route is seen in Patrick Makau’s world record breaking marathon performance this weekend. As the article states,

Not content to cover 26.2 miles in a neat loop, Patrick Makau of Kenya turned the Berlin Marathon into his own personal conga line Sunday while setting a world record of 2 hours 3 minutes 38 seconds.

Just before Mile 17, Makau swung from one side of the flat course to the other, once, twice, three times, then surged. This zigzagging tactic exposed and dropped the previous record-holder, Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia, who had run 2:03:59 in Berlin in 2008.

By taking into account that there was the previous record holder on his tail, Makau, choose the imperfect, zigzagging path to the finish in order to shake the contender in his wake. Had he been so focused on running a perfectly straight performance, it is easy to see that he could have allowed Gebrelassie to draft behind him for much longer and even exposed himself to a more tense and possibly unsuccessful first place finish.

Instead of letting that happen, Makau dropped the ideal path in order to deal with the present moment reality: that there was a man behind him who he needed to shake. And in order to best out run this opponent, he ran a irregular path. And in spite of this setback, he was still able to reach the finish and break the world record, achieving the “perfect performance outcome” that he desired in the first place.

Like Makau, I want to be able to read Real Life situations and deal with them as they come in order to push past barriers and allow for delays and mistakes. It’s the only way that really allows me to take risks and learn from them. It’s the only thing that will really give me peace and help me achieve the intentions I set out for myself.


photo credit

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. I love this, Jess. My sister is definitely a perfectionist and I’d really like to think I’m an optimalist. Either way, I can apply this principle to my life in so many ways right now. Mostly, the looming reality that I must give birth to this baby in my belly. 🙂 I’ve got a birth plan but you never know what can happen!

  2. Cathy

    Thanks for sharing! I should probably have that illustration wallpapered all over the house! Instead of freaking out that I’m not constantly moving forward, I just need to keep making baby steps that eventually add up to forward motion.

  3. Susan

    I love the posts that come from you rereading MML bookshelf books! I’ve recently been reading this book, too, and I think this concept is what I struggle the most with (especially as a graduate student) – remembering that I will not immediately succeed 100% at everything I do, and that when I inevitably have setbacks, it doesn’t mean I’m failing.

    Anyways, hope you’re having a good day! 🙂

  4. Nikell

    I love that image. It’s so true. I’ll have to save it as a reminder when I get frustrated about my endeavors.

  5. Rachel

    Thanks so much for sharing this! Just what I needed to read! Hope you have a lovely week!

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