“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”
~ Vince Lombardi
As one of the more successful coaches in US professional football, I think Vince Lombardi’s experience as a player and a coach taught him something about perfection. When I saw this quote, I stopped to ponder his words carefully.
The first idea is not new or revolutionary; most of us will readily agree that achieving perfection will not happen. Having said that, he clearly doesn’t dismiss the concept out of hand.
My father had an interesting take on the idea of perfection. I don’t think it originated with him, but I learned about it from him at an early age. It went something like this: “A perfect man is not one who makes no mistakes; rather, he’s the one who makes mistakes, falls flat on his face, picks himself up, dusts himself off, and never quits.”
These are two different ideas about perfection. Vince Lombardi claims that perfection is impossible, but if we chase it or strive for perfection, we’ll end up achieving excellence.
This begs the question, what is excellence? One dictionary I consulted (it’s the teacher in me!) states that excellence is the quality of being outstanding or extremely good. Both descriptors point to the extreme end of positive performance or quality. That’s a great outcome no matter how you consider it. Personally, I’d love to be considered an excellent writer, or teacher, or parent – who wouldn’t?
My father, Richard Fioravanti, is suggesting that we should understand ‘perfection’ in a different light. His quote states that perfection is attainable – but not in the traditional sense – that of a perfect performance. He sees perfection in effort that is unceasing.
Both men put emphasis on the effort – my dad says we can’t quit. Lombardi talks about the chase and implies that is a constant. In my view, perfection is in the living of our daily lives. Whether we call it ‘perfection’ or ‘excellence’ this type of living requires constant and consistent effort to achieve.
Words to live by…