‘Perfect Is 5 Times a Year’

Last night, I had the opportunity to sneak over to an undergrad event at which Andre Agassi was speaking. I went to the talk as a tennis player and fan, someone who, at 12 years old, vividly remembers witnessing Agassi complete the career Grand Slam at Roland Garros, breaking down in tears. I left having heard exactly what I needed at this inflection point in my life. What follows are some of those lessons…

Believe it or not, there isn’t much difference between a professional athlete, a top student, a savvy businessperson, or a brilliant developer. At some point (or maybe all points) in their lives, they have expected perfection from themselves. And, perhaps more importantly, numerous others have expected perfection from them. They have become prisoners to perfection. I know that this expectation of myself has manifested itself in debilitating ways, whether it was in the middle of a tennis tournament or learning a new concept at school.

Many think being called a perfectionist is complimentary — it’s not. As Agassi pointed out last night, there is subtlety and nuance between perfectionism and choosing carefully how to live one’s life, being competitive with yourself in a healthy way. This feeling of internal competition is natural and can be useful. It is OK to be stressed, to feel overwhelmed. You wouldn’t even know to sense this pressure if you didn’t have the skills and tools to overcome it.

Ultimately, as Brad Gilbert, Agassi’s former coach, told him during their first meeting, “perfect is 5 times a year.” What matters is how you engage with the other 360 days when things aren’t “just right.” It is during these moments (more than any others) that you should allow yourself to be a work in progress, recognizing that how you handle what comes your way next — whether a serve up the T or a difficult conversation — is vital.