How many times has the phrase “practice makes perfect” been heard or said, I wonder? We say it to kids trying to get them to be disciplined. But even among adults, we seem to still hold this as an ultimate truth.
If I just keep trying, I’ll figure it out. If I push a little harder or a little longer, it will all come together. I just have to practice and then I’ll be successful.
I’ll admit, I wish this were true. I wish there was an amount of practice that could eventually render perfection. I suppose if that were true, I would then complain about how much practice was required. But maybe the way to freedom is reconsidering this modern proverb.
Is perfection actually a realistic goal?
Growing up, softball was a huge part of my life. I played on competitive travel teams as soon as I was old enough. We spent most weekends in the spring and summer at tournaments. The days between tournaments, I was practicing every day, either with my teammates or in my backyard. I always believed that practice would make me perfect.
But the problem was, I never became perfect. I still threw the occasional wild pitch, my batting average was nothing to cheer about and it felt like I was getting slower instead of faster around the bases. Especially as a teenager, this was endlessly frustrating because with the amount of time I put in, I was anticipating perfection. And it felt like my team expected it too.
Since I wasn’t perfect yet, I kept pushing harder and harder until I ultimately hit my breaking point. I still loved softball but it had crushed my spirit in a way. I loved the game and my teammates, but it seemed that I was never going to reach my goal.
Changing the game
Since my high school days, I have tried all kinds of different hobbies, activities and skill sets on. And each time, I (unknowingly) approached them all with the same mentality: practice makes perfect. I felt knocked down over and over again when I couldn’t achieve perfection.
When I started Faithwalking, my goal (again, unknowingly) was to experience personal transformation and then live the rest of my life perfectly transformed. That sounds pretty great, right? The Faithwalking material kept presenting me with adjustments my life needed and it seemed to keep getting harder instead of easier.
But then, one of my coaches made a comment that put everything back in perspective: practice doesn’t make perfection, practice makes progress.
At first, this was not a truth I wanted to hear. I wanted to keep striving for perfection because it was so deeply instilled in me. I was still sure that I could attain perfection. But slowly, the truth grabbed hold of me and I realized that perfection had been holding me captive.
All the times I had “failed” before were really just times that I was expecting perfection but fell short of that unattainable goal. And even though I had missed the mark of perfection, I learned something from each experience, which is progress.
Whether we hope to learn a new skill or are committing to spiritual transformation, perfection should not be the goal. If we remain unsatisfied until we reach perfection, we set ourselves up for disappointment and burn out. Instead, we can embrace the life-giving practice of noticing our progress and celebrating the small wins.
Progress over perfection
The phrase “practice makes perfect” is catchy and simple enough children can understand it. But how many things in this world are perfect? When my Faithwalking coach asked me if I knew any perfectly transformed people, he was trying to help me understand that it actually isn’t about being perfect.
When we try on a new skill, discipline or practice there will be lots of ups and downs. We’ll take a few steps forward as well as some backwards or to the side. But with each step, we learn more about ourselves and learn how to get closer to our goal.
So the next time some tells you, “practice makes perfect” feel free to tell them you’re not looking for perfection, just for progress.