In our fifth blog series, we will discuss Tal Ben-Shahar’s book, The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a RICHER, HAPPIER Life. Our first blog post in this series highlighted that an Optimalist accepts failure as part of growth. This blog post will further discuss the role of failure and how to learn from failure.
Ben Shahar acknowledges that most people have an aversion to failure, which makes them motivated to work harder. However, an intense fear of failure paralyzes us and we aren’t willing to take the risks we need to grow and improve. When things are going well for us, we naturally keep doing what we’ve been doing. We tend to not want to mess with a good thing! However, when we get off course, we receive the opportunity to learn lessons that may not have been available if we had kept attaining success. In fact, most of us can reflect about a challenging time in our life and appreciate the lessons learned, even though we didn’t appreciate the challenge while we were going through it.
Perfectionists expect a perfect journey, are focused on the destination at the expense of the process, and are typically focused on fault-finding, even when things do go well.
On the other hand, Optimalists tend not to be so harsh and rigid and offer forgiveness to themselves and others when mistakes are made.
We often see this fear of failure show up in one of the most common habits of student-athletes – procrastination. Procrastination might seem like a “normal” trait, but it’s often rooted in a fear of failure. If you are afraid the outcome won’t be perfect, you might be afraid to even start an assignment or project because you risk experiencing discomfort and uncertainty associated with a fear of failure.
We often have areas of our life that are easier to have an Optimalist outlook and other areas where we tend to be perfectionistic and have little tolerance for the process of growth. For example, a student-athlete might have an Optimalist approach to sport, but be perfectionistic in their quest for good grades. This student-athlete appreciates and values the process of learning new plays, playing higher levels of competition, and earning significant playing time. However, this same student-athlete might feel crushed when they earn an 89% on an exam and the instructor will not round up to an A.
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