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Federer, Kasparov and Perfectionism

If you feel caught in a trap of perfectionism, consider this: the very best champions of all-time are not perfect and never could be. Gary Kasparov, the most dominant world champion of chess sometimes won and sometimes lost. He won more than he lost, and did so in the most important tournaments – that’s why we judge him the best. But clearly not perfect, whatever that might mean, and even considering only his professional life.

Roger Federer, too, won more than he lost, but by agreeing to play tennis he knew he would lose points, games, sets and matches. Had he been a perfect perfectionist, he’d never have played the game that accorded him his greatness.

They never abandoned the risk of playing.

Thus by taking part, Kasparov and Federer were ultimate winners and equally graceful losers. Kasparov in his heyday and Federer as a child were apparently not the most gracious of losers, but they discovered how to transmute their frustrations and disappointments into practising, learning and skill development.

They never abandoned the risk of playing. Indeed Kasparov famously took on the doomed role of human representative to face the Deep Blue computer that first defeated a reigning world chess champion.

Having a go encompasses the possibility of losing. It remains worthwhile, because you could win. The alternative is to sit it out as a non-participant. If you do that in enough fields, you’ll not get the experiences that make up a life. You’ll miss out on playing to play and playing to learn, if you are a perfectionist and contemplate only playing to win.

It’s useful to ask yourself when are you a perfectionist and when not? When was a recent time when you were less than perfect and it was OK? How did you do that? And how come it felt OK?

Then you can identify similar situations in relation perhaps to work or other areas in which you most deeply feel that perfectionist tendency.

We are artists in the skill of letting go.

Perfectionism is a story we tell ourselves (and maybe others) about ourselves. The perfectionist starts, as do we all when constructing stories about ourselves, with thoughts along the lines, of, ‘I’m the sort of person who… ‘ and completes the idea with a tale of competence or expertise. Then the perfectionist smuggles in the fatal ‘always’, which sets an impossible standard.

If a human does something often enough, there will be an inevitable slip. And in this world to be perfect in some things means facing imperfection in others. Living with those imperfections releases you from your perfectionism elsewhere.

We are artists in the skill of letting go. And we can get better at that – though clearly not perfect.

Read more about the eight LIFEPASS principles including Letting Go on Easy: Your LIFEPASS to Creativity and Confidence. 

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