Full Effort is Full Victory

Posted on October 4, 2014 by Lauri Ringer


When I used to drive my son to school, one particular roadside advertisement always caught my attention. In it, a mother was tending a tray of burnt cookies, with the caption “You don’t have to be Perfect to Be a Perfect Parent.” I often pondered the meaning of the ad and sensed that the message went beyond the task of parenting.

Perfection is a theoretical state. There is no such thing as a perfect circle. There is no such thing as a perfect tree. There is no such thing as a perfect day. And, as we know all too well, there is no such thing as a perfect person.

Our universe is fraught with chaos, which underscores the point that something does not need to be perfect to be good — or even extraordinary. And just as the universe is extraordinary despite all its imperfections, so, too, can our personal imperfections work to our advantage.

This is the basis of the “good enough” school of thought, founded in 1953 by Dr. Donald Winnicott, author of The Good Enough Mother. From Winnicott’s thousands of observations of children and mothers, he arrived at some startling conclusions. Though a good mother lovingly tends to her child (e.g. changing diapers, feeding, and cuddling), it is impossible for her to anticipate the child’s every need.

Moreover, the mother cannot sustain a round-the-clock vigilance throughout her child’s life. Nor should she. In Winnicott’s analysis, the child actually benefits when the mother is not perfect. (Obviously, I’m not talking about child abuse or neglect.) The child must cope with a mother who is “good enough” by learning how to adapt, how to deal with frustration, and how to live independently.

A completely different kind of “good enough” example is software design. The software principle of good enough, or what is sometimes referred to as “worse is better,” means that consumers will use products that are good enough for their requirements, despite the availability of more advanced technology. The consumer doesn’t need — or even want — his software to be perfect if the less advanced software (worse) fits his needs just fine (better.)

The messages that bombard us every day about perfection — from the media, business, schools, and our community — are amplified by the fictitious concept “failure is not an option.”   This is a line from the movie Apollo 13 that, unfortunately, has permeated our culture.

When something goes amiss in space missions, scientists calmly lay out their options.  A scientist from the Apollo 13 mission, who consulted on the film, remarked that failure had not been one of the proposed options, and the producers of the film fictionalized the comment as a dramatic and memorable line.  But the actual words “failure is not an option” were never spoken during the Apollo 13 mission, because the reality is that failure is always an option.

Making mistakes in our daily lives is unavoidable. Which is a good thing, because eliminating failure also eliminates the possibility of success. Our mistakes give us the opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge.

Whether it’s our fallacious “failure is not an option” thinking or because of the inadequacy we feel from the endless perfection messages we see and hear daily, we tend to opt out of the possible embarrassment of making a mistake. It seems so much safer and more comfortable to not even try.

What most people need is a shift to the power of the struggle itself rather than focusing only on success or failure. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory.” When we are afraid to lose — or even try — we forfeit the exhilaration of taking on the challenge.

It may feel discouraging to know that even when we try our best, we are not guaranteed to cross the finish line first — or at all. But I have a suspicion that many people who are consistent winners ultimately find themselves asking, “Is that all there is?”

An excellent example of this was evident in an interview that Steve Croft did on 60 Minutes several years ago with New England quarterback Tom Brady. Near the end of the interview, Brady mused to Croft, “Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there’s something greater out there for me? … There’s got to be more than this.”

Another legendary sports figure, John Wooden, said that he never mentioned winning to his players, because “success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” And that is the true victory, regardless of whether we cross the finish line first or last.

When the pressure of an endeavor threatens your will, remember that there is perfection to your imperfection. Show up, try your best, and go ahead and make mistakes. Remember, you don’t have to be perfect to be great. The lessons learned from your blunders are your victory — and they are priceless.