Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Perfection vs Bravery

I listened to the TED Radio Hour episode this weekend entitled "Nudge". As always the show had some extremely thought-provoking TED talk excerpts, but I was especially attracted to a few nuggets of brilliance relating to parenting, and specifically parenting girls. (I'm in particular talking about the sections highlighting Carol Dweck and Reshma Saujani). In her talk about parenting girls, Reshma Saujani talked about how parents often teach girls to be perfect, rather than teaching them to be brave (watch her full TED talk here).

This struck me as particularly interesting because one of my parents impressed on me quite firmly that I should choose one thing, whether it be garbage collecting or astrophysics, and become the very best. While I can appreciate the lofty goals of achievement, dedication, and single-mindedness wrapped up in the pursuit of 'being the best', I think this was an awful message. Why? Well, what my parent failed to mention explicitly, was what it would take to *actually* become the best. Of course as a kid I assumed hard work and perseverance were required, but there was no mention of struggle, of failure, of mistakes, of burnout, of doubt, of fear, or any other realistic bumps in the road. Just 'you should be the best at whatever you choose to do'. Ultimately I feel that it was unhelpful because it set the biggest goal first, 'be the best', instead of an achievable goal, like,' practice diligently for a month'. Not to mention that 'be the best' seemed to convey 'be perfect'. To bring this idea back to running, it's like saying 'win a gold medal in the 5k' to a new runner instead of 'run 20 minutes without stopping'.

But this message from my parent really comes down to semantics. Did my parent mean, "be YOUR best at whatever you choose to do?". Probably, but as a child I didn't necessarily understand the importance of that distinction. Likewise, is setting a loft goal bad? Of course not, but there are so many benchmarks, as well as setbacks, on the way to the lofty goal, that the ultimate goal must be in the back of your mind, not the forefront.

To bring this back to the TED talk about bravery vs. perfection. Perfection is putting too much weight on the end result, while not putting enough weight on trying in the first place (bravery) and then trying some more once you fail (courage and grit).