The Olympics have given me some food for thought–the Olympics and a small calendar on my desk containing quotes from women. This last weekend, this was the quote: “In order to go on living one must try to escape the death involved in perfectionism.” – Hannah Arendt
Perfectionism is an issue I’ve struggled with in a negative way for years. It has caused me to be impatient at times, both with myself and others. Recognizing the willingness of others to share their gifts and talents is pretty easy–but when they’re not offered perfectly, sometimes I’ve cringed.
Of course, in the Olympics, perfection is what is sought for–that’s what wins the gold. But is that really the ultimate goal?
I think one of the things that made me wonder is an article by sports writer Joe Posnaski in The Kansas City Star yesterday. He was writing about Shawn Johnson and her gold medal on the balance beam. She’d been doing her warmups–and making mistakes she hadn’t made in years. I can’t even imagine what must have been going through her mind! Then suddenly her coach–who grew up in the Chinese gymanstic system–told her to quit practicing…to forget about the judges, the scoring, medals…everything but just performing. It wasn’t worth getting sick over–balance in life was more important!
So what did she do? Went out, had fun…and won the gold!
Is it wrong to aim for perfectionism? I don’t think so. I believe that’s a valid goal…but I think the ultimate goal has to be doing our best–in whatever endeavor we’re involved in. Sometimes it will be perfect–but often it won’t be. But as long as we’ve done our best, I think that’s what allows us to “go on living” as Hannah Arendt said.
I don’t know if you’ve been watching any of the Olympics…but there have been some incredible moments there!
Obviously one of them that everyone is talking about is Michael Phelps and his 8 gold medals. Yes, he is an incredible swimmer, but one of the things I appreciated was his acknowledgement that he couldn’t have done it without his teammates–and his appreciation of them.
Then there’s Dara Torres. Watching her before the finals of the 50-meter freestyle–when you would expect swimmers to be so totally focused on what they needed to do in order to win–she was also aware that another competitor had a problem with her suit and took the initiative to ask the judges to wait to start the race until the suit was fixed (because they didn’t have to delay the race)…and then also went to the other swimmers to keep them calm and focused. What an incredible act of sportsmanship!
There have also been the gracious comments of Shawn Johnson, disappointed at times in her quest for gold, and yet supportive of her teammate Nastia Liukin…and refusing to take reporters’ bait in questions about the ages of the Chinese gymnasts who beat her. And Nastia–who gave her friend and roommate a “go-get-em” hand as they changed places for the floor routine…and who persevered through some marks that were not as high as expected to win the gold and–in some ways–live out both her dream and assuage father’s sense of failure at just barely losing the gold 20 years earlier.
Melanie Roach–the American weightlifter who finds stress relief in lifting twice her weight over her head. Stress relief?!? That would put me in bed for months! And on top of that, she’s dealing with a husband who’s a state representative–and three kids, one of whom is autistic. But she’s found ways to find the balance she needs in order to cope with everything.
And have you seen Usain Bolt from Jamaica in his track competitions? Such a fantastic runner–making his incredible speeds look so simple and easy!
There are so many gifted athletes at the Games–I think they’re all winners just by virtue of being there. I wish there was a way to know all of the “back” stories–the personal stories of why they do what they do. Not just the stories of the medal winners, but also the stories of those who dodge bullets in order to train…who work to train for Olympic events in places where there are no facilities even close to the kinds of venues they’ll be competing in…who have dreams that they are determined to pursue…