In a world where we never attain perfection, can we ever truly accept that we are good enough?
Last night, I watched with admiration and even awe as five young American ladies tumbled and flipped their way into the history books. The “Final Five,” as they dubbed themselves, won gold in the women’s team event, securing back-to-back gold medals for the Americans in the event for the first time ever. They also did it in spectacular fashion. They are performing the most difficult routines, packed with the most challenging maneuvers we’ve ever seen in the sport. We’ve never seen vaults and flips and tumbling passes like these – in fact, there is even one tumbling pass named after the very athlete (Simone Biles) who performs it, because it was never done before she did it. They didn’t have a name for it, so they named it for her. Think of that!
These American gymnasts are arguably the best gymnasts to ever compete in the Olympics, or at least, the best American gymnastics team to compete in the Olympics.
And yet. They were not perfect. They did not achieve perfect scores, nor will they – ever! – no matter how much they straighten their legs or point their feet. I watched while gymnast after gymnast performed incredible feats and then got deductions for mistakes that were invisible to me. “How demoralizing,” I thought. “That was the most incredible floor routine I’ve ever seen and those judges are still nit-picking and taking points off!”
Gymnasts can try their best ever day, train harder than anyone ever has, pull off stunts that no one else has even attempted, and they will never attain perfection. Perfection in the sport is no longer possible.
It was once possible to be perfect in gymnastics. Nadia Comaneci was the first athlete to achieve this feat in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, achieving the first Perfect 10 in history. She was followed by other noteworthy gymnasts such as Mary Lou Retton, Daniela Silivas and Yelena Shushunova. But then people started to realize there was a problem. Lots of people started getting Perfect 10s for their routines. In 1984, 44 Perfect 10s were given out. Forty-four! Can perfection be achieved 44 times?
Can perfection ever be achieved?
The sport of gymnastics realized in 2006 that perfection was a moving target and by definition wasn’t possible, and changed the scoring system. A gymnast can never again earn a Perfect 10. There will always be a higher score out there to earn. In a way, this is disheartening. No matter what an athlete does – how hard they train, how difficult of a maneuver they attempt – they simply can’t score a perfect 10. They’ll never be perfect. In another way, however, it’s liberating.
What gymnastics did, in doing away with perfection, is give individuals the responsibility of finding their own worth.
Perfection is unattainable by its very definition, and yet we don’t just see this unattainable quest for perfection in gymnastics. We see it in performance reviews at work, where no matter how “excellent” an employee’s work is deemed, a responsible manager will still encourage the employee to work on certain areas and do some things a little bit better. We see it in school, where the old grade point scale is a thing of the past and a new weighted system erases the ideal 4.0 GPA. We see it in our own personal weight loss journeys, where even if we can get down to our “ideal weight,” we won’t stay at that exact pound-and-ounce-weight for more than an hour or so without a little variation. A glass of water can be all it takes to tip the scale in an “unfavorable” direction.
We strive to be perfect in a world where perfection is not possible. Why, then, do we kill ourselves trying?
The sport of gymnastics realized that perfection isn’t possible, but excellence is. In gymnastics, it’s up to the judges to deem who is the best in the world at that given moment. In life, it’s up to us. Each of us, individually, needs to figure this out on our own. There’s not a definitive measure of our worth. That’s why it can be so darn stressful and confusing and overwhelming, at times, to figure out if we measure up. And that’s also why life is so beautiful.
In a world where perfection isn’t possible, we get to determine our own worth.
We get to say we are good enough.
Are we up to the task?