The following is an inspiring and real-life anecdote about how setting high standards has helped a person, written by Matthew Wu. It talks about not achieving your goals, and how setting seemingly impossible goals will push you to work harder.
Goals by Matthew Wu
In Grades 6 and 7, I was lucky enough to have an amazing homeroom teacher, Mrs. Huismans. In those years, I learnt many things, many life lessons, starting on the first day. She had a paper star on a string, hanging above the classroom. Our first lesson on the first day, was to aim for that star. Aim for that star, because even if you miss, you are still up in the sky. At the time, I was unsure of what it meant; I thought it was just some teacher trying to sound wise and inspiring. At the time, I thought, it doesn’t matter where I aim if I put the same effort in, since the product has to be the same… right? But Mrs. Huismans had many years of wisdom under her belt, and her advice had a deeper meaning, which I soon discovered.
Grade 8: Track and Field day. I usually did well on Track day, as I was a pretty physically active guy. Anyhow, this particular year, one of my friends was sweeping all the events. He picked up every first prize, except one, and I got every second prize except two coming into the last event: running long jump. Personally? I didn’t like running long jump, I wasn’t especially good at it, and I foot-faulted often… it just wasn’t really my thing. I was hoping to place in the top 5 at best, probably not even that. My friend, however, was pretty dang good at running long and was expected to win this event like he won most of the others.
The person organizing the event, Mrs. Cassle, did us a favor and placed a pencil at 5 metres as something for which we could aim. Most people got around 3.6, 3.7. When it was my turn, I put my head down and jumped. I got 3.82, which put me in third place, and I was pretty happy. Then, we got a second attempt — our second jump. My friend got 4.02, shattering his last one, which put him in first place… nobody was even surprised. Anyhow, my turn came again, and due to my last name being pretty far down on the alphabet, I was the last jumper. Mrs. Cassle came and put down another pencil, at the 4.02 mark as a target for me to aim for… a target for me to beat. At that point, I decided, I’m going to beat this guy, I’m not going to just beat this guy, I’m going to make 5 meters.
So, this time, as I ran in, I didn’t look down, I didn’t look at the board to make sure I didn’t foot fault; instead I looked at the second pencil: the pencil at 5 meters. I jumped. My form was unchanged. I had tried my hardest the previous time, and I tried my hardest this time, but somehow, something was different. I landed at 4.06 meters. I had won, and I had gotten over 20 cm more than my last jump. This was RIDICULOUS.
Looking back now, I realized something had changed, an urge, not an urge to beat my friend, and an urge to get to 5 metres, and urge to do something amazing. I failed, however… I failed to make the 5 meters, but… so what? Clearly it had worked; I had won a first place ribbon. I am sure to this day that if I had looked at my friend’s pencil, the one at 4 metres, I wouldn’t have made that jump. Why? Because then I would be aiming at something possible, something that had been done, and then I would be once again simply ‘trying’. When I looked at 5 metres, I was paving the road for excellence. I was aiming to not just settle for doing the best; instead I was aiming at something beyond that. I was aiming for that star.
It awoke something within me, because my muscles did not, all of a sudden, become more capable… it changed something. I aimed… at what I saw was perfection. The pursuit of perfection is climbing to an everlasting summit; as you go higher, it constantly recedes. The goal of perfection is not a place, but an ongoing and everlasting climb. This means that those who aim to be totally flawless will never be. It’s simply impossible. This, however, does not mean that it is pointless to aim for perfection. Simply because aiming for perfection invokes a longing, it makes you want and need to do better, so that you will be superhuman. You will have accomplished something that had never been done before; you will be… perfect, and that is so much more than being best.
So… goals, what do they do? They keep you real… they constantly show you that, hey, you aren’t the best… you have yet to do these things. They keep you on track and not constantly wavering around trying to better yourself. They give you satisfaction and motivation if reached. They give you a task at which to aim. Of course, goals are useful, so why set ridiculous, unattainable goals that must end in failure? Because when you are looking at that star, you don’t expect to fail; this is what makes failure so hard, yet so inevitable. What does happen, though, is that after you wake up and realize that you didn’t hit the star, you will realize, I’m just that much closer, and tomorrow, tomorrow is a new day. So yes, accomplishable goals are great and they get your self-esteem up, but expecting to succeed means you did not aim high enough, that you could have done better. Aiming for perfection is the only way not to underestimate yourself. The only way to achieve your whole human potential. The only way to unlock that hidden power inside, that driving force. They give you a further motivation, a true motivation. And that means you put more effort in, and that means success will come much more easily.
So aim for that star. Aim for that star.