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Stephen Kalyta and his pearls of wisdom: Perfection versus Good Enough

Perfection versus Good Enough

Stephen Kalyta

If you were to consider an appropriate military context for perfection, I think drill would likely rise to the top of your list. However it is not individual mastery of the movement that impresses crowds. It is in the unison of execution where a hundred individuals appear to operate as one mind. What is particularly fascinating to me, is that neuroscience knows that the brain is following these commands nearly absent of emotion. Thus the “perfection”, especially in drill, requires more than individual focus, but a deliberate conviction  of what everyone must do as well. Failure to trust the actions of your drill mates results in a staccato of boots dropping like dishes in the Mess Hall. With that dreadful outcome, emotions will not be far behind.

It turns out that neuroscience also knows that striving for individualized perfection when you are in control of the decision rather than surrendering it, actually can be a significant source of stress. This is not to suggest that when we are robot-like, as some might describe it, that this state of mind is appropriate in all situations.

Either fortunately or unfortunately for you, drill is not a universal equation for perfection in all facets of your life. When you are again in control of your decisions, the emotional state is heightened negatively if the goal extends unreasonably toward perfection. If the drive for it becomes a constant preoccupation, you may become depressed by the cycle of self-condemnation. Getting your cross-bats may be a respectable goal, whereas expecting to achieve a perfect 500, for 4 years, may not be realistic.

This issue of situational perfection, may sound somewhat like a circuitous argument, so I will get to the point. It is far healthier for your brain to have the capacity to discern between perfection and when your results are “good enough”. It turns out that denying yourself the reward of achieving any goals through the relentless pursuit of perfection, can be quite harmful at any stage of your life.

Consider the hours in a day you have to devote to study. Consider also the commitments in time required for drill, military training, physical training and social interests- as if there are any hours left in the day for socializing!

If you are striving for perfection in your sports, all your subjects, military proficiency etc. then you may be setting yourself up for failure, and contributing to your own undue stress. In turns out that making a reasonable decision is better than no decision at all. Better yet, choose sensible standards for yourself, rather than goals set so high you can never achieve them. Obviously finding a balance in all that is required of you at RMC is not only sensible, its a strategy to train your brain to be more resilient.

You may have a talent for some academic subjects and not others. Determine where you are weak and allocate more emphasis on it. Suspend your focus where your performance is “good enough”, to ensure that the things that are not to standard are afforded more time. This is a central lesson of RMC that often goes unnoticed. The college teaches a form of “perfection”of self where you learn the cadence of balance in all that you do, not just drill. If you are not quite where you want to be, well, you have something to work on tomorrow.

Previous article in this series:


‘Gratitude toward Self’

Mid-term monsters and an altered academic reality

Oh what a night!

Cadets and Valour

Calling out all cadets with bars…

17160 Stephen Kalyta weighs in on auditor general’s report and gives Officer Cadets something to ponder

One Comment

  • OCdt

    January 16, 2018 at 11:44 pm

    Fantastic advice. It was what I needed to read. This puts into words how I felt last semester. However at the time I was not sure if I should be disappointed in myself for feeling OK with “good enough”. “Perfect balance” is the perfection we should strive for. You have helped me. Thank you sir.