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.

17 responses to “Full Effort is Full Victory”

  1. larajf says:

    We definitely are perfectly suited for where we are right now and have to make mistakes to get to where we want to go. And I'll make those mistakes perfectly! I used to joke that I couldn't be the perfect mom because what would I give my daughter to talk about in therapy otherwise.
    We did the driver training thing this past year. I would knit dishclothes in the car to keep me focused from henpecking my daughter. She needed to have the freedom to practice and know that I thought she was doing perfectly well as a student. It worked. She's driving herself everywhere with confidence now. I could see her testing her wings a few weeks ago, and she's started flying.
    I think it's an irony that just when you start to feel confident as a parent, the kid leaves. Guess I've got to start practicing who I'm going to be in the next phase of my life.
    Great article & am glad you're still writing the column.

  2. Gary Waltrip says:

    Focus on the struggle, not the end goal. Success is a journey, not a destination. Do all you can to be the best you can be. It's okay, even necessary, that you make mistakes, experience failure, so you can learn and grow. Thanks Lauri, I needed these truths pointed out to me, once again. Knowing them brings peace and helps dispel earlier disappointments in life. I have often fell off the horse, but dang, I'm going to climb back on and keep riding.

  3. bullwink says:

    commenting on your fathers article that his wisdom "has rubbed off on you" proves it's validity, something that cannot be transferred is inert, ie pretty much useless, in the Presidents address today he is doing a perfect job of improving jobs and the economy, perhaps I've gone a bit senile cuz my reaction is "what's he smoking" while what you've written I find sensible and encouraging, alas you know better, but if you were the
    Libertarian Presidential Candidate you could make some small changes in the mindset of Americans, as 20% have concerns about the economy ,is that all who "earn a livin' ?" seems so..well if and when we lose Robert he produced sane offspring, write more I need a little sanity occasionally ..Thanks

  4. Robby Bonfire says:

    In paragraph nine, the line…."eliminating failure also eliminates the possibility of success," that is true, because, even at our best we are not perfect and "fail" a great deal, as testimony to this fact. So that, imperfect as we are, we must always strive to treach that higher plane called "success."

    When I first read that line, I thought is was a "typo," because it seems to me if you substitute the word "increases" for "eliminates," you get: "Eliminating (or reducing the incidence of) failure ~increases~ the possibility of success." In other words, the more we reduce the incidence and degree of mistakes we make, with their failed outcome, the more we ~increase~ our chances of realizing success.

    I recognize that my "casino mentality" orientation brings me to this dialogue from a different angle, but in support of my contention, as an old horse player I know the value of finding a winner by eliminating the losers to see who is left standing.

  5. Murray Suid says:

    Wisdom from your pen… to my mind.. to mouth…to my grandkids. Thank you.

  6. Robby Bonfire says:

    In paragraph nine, the line…."eliminating failure also eliminates the possibility of success," that is true, because, even at our best we are not perfect and "fail" a great deal, as testimony to this fact. So that, imperfect as we are, we must always strive to treach that higher plane called "success."

  7. Prsnl Rspnsblty says:

    Disagree with this article. If anything, we are seeing the decline in standards across the board in society. Anything and everything is okay now. Low standards are the norm. Poor quality is the norm. Bad Service is the Norm. Dishonesty is the norm. And yes, poor parenting is the norm. I could go on and on. No one is held accountable. Personal Responsibility no more.
    No ones perfect, but the pursuit of perfection and high standards should be the measuring stick from which we evaluate the character of ourselves and those around us.
    As far as the "Failure is not an option" example, it is important not to fail because the lives of individuals are on the line!

    • Guest says:

      Don't know why you disagreed with the article – gist of article states that pursuing perfect effort, rather than the perfect result, should be the end goal. If failure was encountered, use the lessons learned to make one's next effort even more "perfect" rather than quit in fear of encountering more failure. "Failure is not an option" should be used as an inspiration rather than a burden..

      Agreed wholeheartedly that low standards are the norm these days. All the same, it makes it that much easier for those that want to succeed given relative lack of competition…

    • lauri_ringer says:

      You bring up excellent points that I considered when drafting my article and with which I agree. The pursuit of perfection and high standards, of which you speak, lead to the question, "Who decides the definition of high standards and perfection?" I could not reconcile one person's definition of success having precedence over any one else’s.

      Freedom is the keystone to my philosophy – I believe in man’s freedom to live in any way he so chooses, so long as he does not forcibly interfere with the rights of others. In my viewpoint, personal responsibility accompanies freedom, but never trumps it. I plan to write about this in a separate article.

      I do not suggest lowering standards. I suggest the reasons people do not make more of an effort. I believe that changing our conversation about failure will make people less afraid to expend effort. Allowing room for mistakes can result in higher achievement, not less. Mistakes are part of success, which is why entrepreneurs have nerves of steel – they know they must learn to cope with failure to build a bridge to success.

      No matter how hard we try, failure is always a possibility. That's just a fact, whether human lives are on the line or not.

    • Jean says:

      Belief that the article advocates lowering standards misses the point. Standards propel one to work to the best of his or her ability, which means that everyone will fail. The article actually advocates changing one's perspective on failure to be a learning experience and a tool for growth, rather than a reason to stop doing.

      I agree that today, mediocrity has become the norm, ostensibly because "failure" has been given a bad rap as a self-esteem killer. In truth, learning to fail and work around it is as much a self-esteem builder as is praising effort, and certainly better than giving someone a participation trophy! Our so-called educators have yet to learn how to teach kids the best ways to learn from failure.

  8. Prsnl Rspnsbity: I agree with you 100%. "Aim for the lowest common denominator" is the new mantra. Mediocrity rules.

    • lauri_ringer says:

      I believe the reason people aim for the lowest common denominator is because they are afraid to fail. The goal is to encourage fearlessness – that's the ticket out of the mediocrity abyss.

    • Richard Lee Van says:

      I've called America THE GREAT MEDIOCRACY for years! Especially since the UNequal Rights Amendment when I was NOT awarded my dream job because I was a white male. 1974.

      • Robby Bonfire says:

        My sympathy for that, Richard. In fact, what you do not want to be in this society is a White, Male, Conservative, Christian, Capitalist, Heterosexual if you know what is good for you.

  9. "Who decides the definition of high standards and perfection?" I could not reconcile one person's definition of success having precedence over any one else’s." I respect your opinion but therein lies the rub. I see your point; the effort is the thing, well in my case I've spent a lifetime in the service industry and when I make a purchase or avail myself of a service I set the standard. Remember the Golden Rule? He who has the gold makes the rule. What other yardstick would you employ? Lively and I love your blog.

  10. Richard Lee Van says:

    In Albert Camus' MYTH OF SISYPHUS, the writer-philosopher posits the idea that the meaning of the myth is NOT end-orientation, ie, getting the rock over the top. Rather, the MEANING inhleres in the ACT OF rolling the rock. That opened a whole new line of thinking for me back then!