One step up from excellence lays perfection. How different are these two concepts?
Business excellence can lead us to being better and smarter than the competition, maintaining high standards, striving for leadership, quality, and high service. Perfection can lead us to….the Tiger Woods syndrome!
Tiger was a little boy who had a golf club put in his hand as soon as he could walk. Did he choose this? My guess is he would have been just as happy with a fire engine or a branch from a tree to play with. He was, as we all know, blessed with great physical balance and visual acuity. He also, as all little ones are prone to do, yearned to please his parents, his father especially.
The drama of Tiger today is so not about power and success. It is so not about how he could snap his fingers to get beautiful females to have adjoining rooms at golf classics. It is about the trap of perfection that hits successful individuals, female as well as male, and turns them into hungry people who are continuously searching to fill an emptiness that seems unquenchable. “I want” turns to “I need” and inevitably to “I deserve”.
The striving for perfection is a worthless, illusive goal that so often ends in the tragedy of addictions and betrayals. Tiger is but one of many, and while the spotlight seems to be on males and sexuality at the moment, there are millions of “devils who wear Prada” focusing on how to become that super achiever, the one who will step on or over anyone to get what they want.
This addiction to perfection often starts from a compulsive need to please one or both parents, or perhaps to make up for a past shame often hidden in the family system. Behind the masks of so many successful individuals lurks depression, disillusionment, maybe even terror. The intense yearning to succeed is so strong it becomes paralyzing since one wrong move and the fragile world of perfection will, and does, fall apart.
So, how can we learn from Tiger’s personal tragedy rather than focus on the titillation of counting female lovers, and what will happen to his fortune if he and his wife divorce? This is where the distinction between excellence and perfection deserves discussion in every leadership development program, in every senior management program, in every team building session, in every conflict management seminar.
It is time to consider how our society is stuck in addressing the adolescent highs and lows of life we tend to focus on. We live at the polarizing end points of best and worst, right and wrong, good and bad. The sadness is that our society lives in the polarized realm of perfection where every golf swing is perfect, every breast is sculpted perfectly; and we pretend that there are no mosquitoes in paradise.
It is excellent to be goal-oriented, to do our best and then take some time to celebrate our successes. It is excellent to move toward a goal with strength of purpose. Yet, when we come up short of the goal, when we are second or third in the race, so what!
What we can learn from Tiger is that when the focus is on perfection, that fear and vulnerability take hold and there is a compulsion to “feed the hungry ghost” with alcohol, food, sex, or stuff. Is this the world we want the next generations to inherit?