Elite sportspeople are often seen as role models. They demonstrate physical strength, determination, resilience, talent, and hard work. They are successful in what they do. There is a stereotype that sportspeople are ‘squeaky-clean’. Quite often the media and the public image of elite sportspeople projects that they are perfect and that there is nothing ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ or ‘tarnished’ in their lives. So when we realise that things are not perfect there seems to be a lot of surprise and shock. Take one of the greatest golfers of all time, Tiger Woods for example. The fallout from the scandal in his personal life in November 2009 shows that he was less than perfect in his marriage and yet highly successful in his sporting career. More recently, Australian Olympic swimmer Grant Hackett spoke publicly about his difficulties within his own personal life admitting that some of these difficulties occurred during his successful sporting career. Both these examples beg the question, ‘do you have to be perfect to be successful?’

Generally it is a good thing to have high standards. People put in a lot of effort and challenge themselves to achieve these standards and attain a certain level of excellence. By reaching these high standards, people feel a sense of worth and pleasure in doing well and achieving their goals. For example, athletes place high standards on themselves to achieve success in their respective sport. The Olympic Games is considered by many to be the pinnacle of sport, one of the largest sporting events in the world. Athletes work hard and sacrifice a lot over the course of four years (and in some cases more than four years) for the Olympics. It might be said that without extremely high standards and the desire to do well athletes may not attain their goal and be successful. However, too often these standards can be unachievable and unrelenting.

Problems arise when people begin to set extremely high and sometimes unreasonable goals for themselves and other people. Typically, high achievers like elite athletes aim to make everything perfect so as to attain success. However, often the pursuit of these goals is at the expense of other aspects/areas (e.g., family, friends, partners, social etc.) of a person’s life. Also, this desire for perfection can cause emotional wear and tear. Therefore, sometimes the drive to do well, to pursue excellence can impair performance and overall health and wellbeing. Below is a list of commonly identified problems that can arise due to the strive for perfection:
– No effort is viewed as good enough
– There never seems to be enough time to do your best
– You fear making a mistake or of being humiliated/embarrassed in front of others
– Your perception of yourself is distorted
– Tension exists in your personal relationships
– Feel frustrated, angry, stressed, disappointed
– Cannot reach your standards without considerable effort and emotional, psychological and physical energy

Of course we can learn a number of valuable things from our elite sportspeople. One key message we can take from elite sportspeople is that a person can be successful in their chosen field without being perfect. No one can be 100% perfect. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be successful in your chosen endeavour. Remember to cultivate and look after other areas of your life. MNC psychologists work with high achievers teaching them how to make their perfectionistic tendency work for them rather than against them.