I’m a recovering perfectionist. I’ve known intellectually for a long time that no one is perfect, especially me. I didn’t let that stop me from trying to be perfect, and it didn’t stop me from being incredibly hard on myself. I am my own worst critic. Despite this, it’s only been in the last few weeks that I’ve come to understand in my heart also that I’m not perfect. Learning to deal with it hasn’t been easy.
What brought this crisis on was the martial art that I study. I am gearing up for my black belt exam later this year. The rank of black belt is called shodan, which in Japanese means beginner. During my training, I have noticed that the more I learn, the more there is to learn. I feel at times as if I’m going backwards instead of forwards. For a while, this seriously depressed me. How can it be that the more I know, the more I don’t know?
I thought about this hard and long, puzzling over it and turning it over in my head as if it were a scrambled Rubik’s Cube. I started thinking about the other things I’ve done in my life, the various hobbies I dove into intensely only to leave a short time later. I mulled it over in my mind until I could finally see the truth behind the situation and make peace with it. The conclusion I reached surprised me at first.
It surprised me because I finally figured out that this is how everything works! Within every conceivable subject that exists, there are infinite levels of knowledge. No matter how much anyone knows about a subject, there will always be more to know about it. I realized that everyone who studies something in depth comes to the realization, consciously or subconsciously, that they will never know everything about that subject.
Once I figured this out, I revisited my perspective and how I felt about this. Sure, my technique isn’t perfect, and never will be. But my perspective of this knowledge is mine to determine. I can focus on the fact that there is so much I will never know and let it depress me. Or I can focus on the fact that I can always improve, always get better, and always learn. There is more than enough material to keep me learning for the rest of my life, and there will be plenty left to learn long after I have departed this life. Wow!
Needless to say, I got over my depression. I know now that I can do just about anything that anyone else has done or learn anything anyone else has learned, if I am willing to put in the work. The same can be said for anyone. The best example of that is professional athletes. After repeated studies, they’ve found that without fail, that the best athletes in their sports are also the hardest workers. Not the luckiest, nor the most talented, but the hardest workers. Before he retired the first time after a dramatic victory in Game 7 of the NBA finals, Michael Jordan was arguably the best basketball player the world has ever seen. Millions of people watched his heroics on the court. No one but him watched him during the many hours he spent on the court practicing every day. No one saw all the shots he missed learning how to do the things that amazed so many when he did them in a game.
In the end, I’m working on a new goal, and it’s not perfection. It’s simply to keep learning, to keep getting better. Realistically, that’s all I can ask for. It’s all anyone can ask for. Much as you may not want to admit it, you’re not perfect either. Cut yourself some slack though. You’re not perfect, nor will you ever be. The best you can do is to do better. What do you want to do better?