Protesting Perfection

Published: May 12, 2012

It seems odd to be grateful for a mistake. When we make mistakes, the typical physical responses kick into gear: the pit in the stomach, the heart sinking, the flushing face, the "oh $#%!" moment of "WHAT DID I DO?!?" The alternative is achieving perfection. But is perfection a worthy goal? Do we learn if we're perfect? Or should we protest perfection and thank our mistakes?

A 23-year-old rock guitarist was nearing perfection with his craft. He was proud of his accomplishments, but felt stuck. As he faced the end of this journey, he considered his next adventure. He chose to sacrifice his mastery of the rock genre to undertake a quest that would require dedicated daily practice for decades: the study of jazz. He believed he wouldn’t be able to live enough years to master his new goal. This, he said, was reason enough to get up each morning. He has since released three acclaimed jazz guitar CDs and continues to push the limits of music, thanking mistakes as they create opportunities and teach him more about his new adventures.

Responding to the call is a choice. It’s easier not to. Following a path of least resistance protects the safety of the status quo and increases the likelihood that you can be the king of a small hill. You can celebrate accomplishment, stake your claim, and trumpet the achievement of perfection while the rest of the world breaks the mold and transforms.

Invite risk. Stretch limits. Embrace discomfort. Thank mistakes. Dare to fail.

Protest perfection.


Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.