Sports psychologist Dr Bob Rotella in his book, Golf is Not a Game of Perfect, writes about how golf is inherently a game of mistakes. The winner in golf isn’t the player that has the best shot, but the one who effectively deals with their mistakes. Perfectionism on the other hand creates tremendous pressure and anxiety because a person tries to attain something which is impossible.
Dr Patrick Cohn, another sports psychologist, says that perfectionists are their own worst enemies and they self-destruct on the golf course because of frustration and the inability to deal with mistakes.
The parsha teaches us something important as we find another perfectionist in the Torah – Moshe Rabbeinu.
Moshe’s father-in-law comes to tell him that he mustn’t judge the Jewish people all alone, and must delegate.
Why didn’t Moshe realise this himself?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches that Moshe Rabbeinu was aware of the special virtue he had of speaking to Hashem face to face, and thought that there was no-one better to deal with the laws other than himself.
Yisro taught him that perfection is unsustainable, and that good is sometimes perfect.
The most elusive thing about perfection is that we look at others and think they have it perfect.
The key in life – as in golf – is not to be taken in by the thought of perfection and distracted by others’ successes, but as Dr Cohn says, stay in the present, enjoy the ball and shot now.
Perfectionism is something we struggle with every day. We want a perfect marriage; we want perfect children; and we want a perfect career. We want our friends to do exactly what we need when we need it, and for life to follow our predetermined, chartered course. When our desires and aspiration don’t materialise perfectly, we become frustrated and upset.
The goal should never be perfection. The goal is great – or even good depending on circumstance. If I expect a perfect marriage, that requires a perfect spouse. No human being can deliver in that way. If we expect perfect children, we’re setting them up for failure. If we wait to take advantage of life’s opportunities until the perfect one arrives, we’ll miss out on all the great opportunities which present themselves every single day. If we expect perfect results from ourselves, we become disillusioned, aggravated, and ultimately, give up.
Perfection is alluring but not realistic. We must resist the temptation of perfection, and embrace the good, great, and excellent.
Moshe was fortunate to have a Yisro to whisper in his ear. We’re privileged to have a Torah which lights our way. May we find the strength to see the goodness in our loved ones, the greatness in our opportunities, and the beauty in ourselves.
Rabbi Shmuel Ozhekh – Ohr Somayach Cape Town, and the founder of Rejewvinate and The Eden Meditation App