Friday, June 18, 2010

Unmotivated Perfectionists

There was a time when people lived in their own little world and knew very little of what was happening outside their immediate family or local community. But now technology lets us communicate with people around the world in an instant and lets us watch live video of events happening around the world. This has given us a broader view of the world and made many things possible that were just unrealistic in previous generations. But it has also raised our expectations about the world around us and caused us to desire things and experiences that previous generations never dreamed of.

In the past we only heard a moderately good singer in our own community and thought it was wonderful. Now TV and the Internet let us hear world class singers that very few people can compete with. In the past the local high school sports jock was considered amazing. Now he pales in comparison to what professional athletes accomplish daily and are played over and over again on the sports networks. The local pastor's sermons used to be inspiring. Now we are comparing him to a TV or radio preacher and he rarely compares well. We see actors with perfects bodies, perfect hair, perfect clothes and perfect complexions and then we look in the mirror and often feel inadequate.

Technology has clearly raised our expectations to "perfect" levels. The problem with this is two-fold. First, very few of us have the ability to make the perfect dunk shot, or sing with perfect pitch, or have a perfect body. We are much less than perfect. In the past we only compared ourselves with those around us and we often felt we were at least average. But now we are comparing ourselves to the best of the best and feel very below average. This is an unfair comparison and we should not do it. But technology has exposed us to these seemingly perfect people, so it is hard not to see our shortcomings much more clearly.

This leads us to the second half of the problem, which is our motivation factor. When we were comparing ourselves to our siblings or next door neighbors, we knew that if we just tried hard enough, we could compete well. Maybe we would not always be the best at everything, but we knew that if we put forth the effort, we could do well enough to earn the respect of those around us. But now, the stakes have been raised to unrealistic levels. The bar for "success" is now so high that most of us know that we can't possibly become a "star" at most of the things in life that we really like. This destroys our motivation and sometimes we don't even feel it is even worth trying.

In essence, we have become unmotivated perfectionists. We want everything in life to be perfect like we see on TV or on the Internet, but since we know we can't be perfect we don't bother to try at all. Of course, when we don't try, then we really fail. Once we fail, that reinforces our idea that we can't succeed and we become trapped in a cycle of desiring perfection but being unmotivated to even attempt to achieve it. That can be a very depressing way to live.

The odd thing about all of this is that we are really are good at a lot of things. We may not be perfect, but we are good and we can accomplish a lot if we try. Perhaps we need to stop trying to be the next "star" and just try being the best "us" that we can be. We all are good at something even if we never make it on American Idol or write a best selling novel or have the perfect body. We should work hard doing the things that are important to us and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes with hard work. We should stop comparing ourselves to the "perfect" people and do the best that we can in our little corner of the universe. We might accomplish a lot more than we thought we could.


  1. Thanks Terry,
    This is a very encouraging article!

  2. For the first time, I think I disagree with you on this one. Two examples. Last night watching the Celtics I thought, “I can do better than them and I am over 50.” The other example is with watching the Red Sox botch a good game.

    Just kidding of course …

    Thanks for the insight. Very appropriate thoughts for helping us to contextualize the Scripture with society.


  3. I think you are right on target with this commentary. As you may know John Wooden, the UCLA basketball coach, just passed away. Your final paragraph captures his definition of success, being the best you can be. Thanks for the reminder!