“The goal is not to be perfect by the end. The goal is to be better tomorrow.” Simon Sinek – Perfection
What is perfection?
Motivation looks different to different people. For some, striving towards perfection is the greatest motivator for excellence. For others, who take a more incremental approach, just getting better in little chunks and seeing improvement provide enough incentive to move forward. To live well, we must all strike that middle ground– have aspirational big-picture goals but also be okay with enjoying the little successes along the way.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts – founders of Teach Different and twin brothers with over 50 years of teaching experience – along with guest Darren Rainey, a military veteran who has worked in secondary and postsecondary education, for a compelling conversation about perfection, enriched by the Teach Different Method. Whether you are a teacher, school leader, or simply someone interested in experiencing the joy and fulfillment of challenging kids with big ideas, join our worldwide Community of Practice FREE for 30 days. Membership includes access to our robust library of resources, conversation plans, and lively discussions among teachers and faculty.
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Dan Fouts 00:01
Hello, Steve and Dan Fouts here from Teach Different. We’re veteran teachers from the United States bringing educators together from around the world to learn a simple conversation method, which we model on this podcast for you. If you’re a teacher, administrator, homeschooler, or parent who wants to use the power of conversations to build stronger relationships and fight polarization, stay tuned to hear the impact our method can have on your discussions, then join our community of educators at teachdifferent.com for additional resources, and to participate in lively conversations among teachers and faculty, free for 30 days.
Dan Fouts 00:43
Welcome, everybody to the Teach Different podcast. We’re excited tonight to have a really interesting quote from Simon Sinek, a British American author and inspirational speaker. It’s about perfection. We’ll get to that in a moment. For those unfamiliar with the Teach Different protocol, we’ll start with a quote, then we’ll move into interpreting what the quote means to us, and share any personal stories that support our claim. Then, we’ll go against it and look at a counterclaim, basically disagree with the quote, but still believe in it. This is the critical thinking tension. Tonight, we have a great guest with us, Darren Rainey, who’s going to be introducing himself in a moment. He has a really interesting background. Oh, one other thing, I can’t forget this, we’re going to be thinking of a question during the conversation that we will share at the end. Often during these discussions, interesting questions will pop into our brain and we want to remember those to share at the end. There’s our intro. Here we go. Darren Rainey is going to take the first stab at this. I’m going to read the quote twice, and then Darren will weigh in. Simon Sinek, “The goal is not to be perfect by the end. The goal is to be better tomorrow.” “The goal is not to be perfect by the end. The goal is to be better tomorrow.” Darren Welcome to the Teach Different podcast. It’s great to have you here.
Darren Rainey 02:31 – Claim
Thanks for having me Steve, I appreciate it. I’m glad to be here and glad to join you all. My name is, like Dan said, Darren Rainey. I’m originally from Philadelphia, PA, but currently live and work in Delaware at Delaware State University as a program manager for recruitment and retention to diverse educators. I’ve had a career change. I started off in the military and then transitioned into a teaching role, where I taught English at Freire Charter School in Wilmington, Delaware. I recently transitioned from a leadership role at the school where I was the Director of Curriculum Instruction into my current role as a Program Manager for recruiting and retention to diverse educators, supporting educators at Delaware State. So, as I think about this quote, the thing that stands out to me is the idea of getting better. I believe the claim is that life is about growth, not striving for perfection, but this idea of growing. I always go back to thinking about humans. As human beings we grow every day, from the time we’re born, until the time we’re not living anymore. We’re constantly growing, and that’s really what life is about. It’s not about being a perfect individual, but being someone who is simply growing and constantly getting better.
Steve Fouts 04:11
Right, that’s what life is. It’s a process. That’s what improvement is. It’s a process. I guess that when you start thinking that way, that things are a process, what you’re kind of doing in your head is managing some expectations. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to get things perfect, but take the smaller steps and be happy with that, because that actually is winning. Just so long as you’re a little bit farther the next day than you were the previous day. That’s when you just need to celebrate yourself. Don’t beat yourself up that you’re not where you want to be. There you go, that’s my input.
Dan Fouts 05:05
Yeah, it makes me think of the anxiety that’s produced in people when they think about perfection going into a task. If their head is focused on, I’m going to be perfect at this, then I think for a lot of students, they’ve lost before they’ve started. They get anxious, they feel like they’ll never get there, and then they shut down. They don’t take that little step where they could have been successful. So I think I would interpret this claim psychologically, as just do the little steps. Don’t get anxious and fearful of being perfect in the end.
Darren Rainey 05:53
I think the quote says that perfection isn’t the obstacle to completion, but when we’re chasing perfection we are chasing something that’s so far off. In some cases we don’t even know what perfection is. We’re chasing after something unknown, instead of focusing on the very actionable steps that we can take to improve ourselves over time. Reward our minds and reward ourselves for acknowledging the growth that we’re making. Let’s go back to that 1% rule. You get 1% better at something every day. I coach basketball, so when I work with my basketball players, I tell them all the time that we’re working on a new skill or a new drill, and I don’t expect you to be perfect, but I expect you to work to be better tomorrow than you were today. I think that’s really what it comes down to. There’s a mindset shift there when we’re working towards growth and getting better at something, versus looking at, oh, I need to be perfect at this. There’s a little shift in how you move and how you operate.
Steve Fouts 07:18
And it’s subtle. You’re right. The word that came to my mind, as both of you were talking, was failure. How failure is perceived by someone who thinks that there’s this perfection to try to gain. They’re going to bake failure into their aura. It’s something that looms over them every day. They’re not there yet. They’re going to be telling themselves, I haven’t reached it. I can see people beating themselves up by telling themselves that they’re not where they want to be, and getting despondent because of that. Whereas, if the goal is to be better tomorrow, you could even say that you’re going to make 10 mistakes today, but tomorrow you’re going to make fewer. It’s just a different mindset. You don’t think of failure as something in the way, but as part of that process. The perception of failure would be different based on how people interpret this quote differently.
Dan Fouts 08:35
Yeah, I like that take on it. That makes sense. I’m thinking of a classroom and what you might ask students to get them thinking along these lines. Maybe if you ask them things like, what are some things you do in your life that you get better at very slowly over time. Stop the conversation and have them process that or even write it out on a piece of paper, then have them share. Whenever I study, I feel like my goal is to get better and better and better. I think sports analogies will come up. They will probably start talking about their coaches and how they’re brought forward to improve. I think asking this question during this conversation provides an opportunity to get to know kids on a more personal level.
Steve Fouts 09:44
Darren, what do you think? You have experience with the method and have done this with kids. Is there anything that’s kind of leaping out at you as to how you might get them to share experiences for the claim?
Darren Rainey 10:02
Yeah. It comes down to risk taking. We talked about growth, which comes down to being vulnerable enough to take a risk and being, like you said Steve, vulnerable enough to fail. In order to do that you have to feel safe enough to fail and safe enough to take a risk. I had to create that space. I said we’re going to tackle something today and just take a stab at it. It’s not about getting the right answer or being perfect, it’s about saying what you think. Over time, we’ll figure it out, we’ll refine it. Be okay enough to take a risk, and don’t fear failure. We’re working to get better at talking to each other and conversing with each other. I’ve had success with that. But it all ties back to being safe enough to take those risks and feeling safe enough to fail. Knowing that if I fail, it’s going to be okay, because I get to try again.
Dan Fouts 11:24
That’s great. I love how you use this quote, Darren, with our protocol. You literally tied it directly into the conversation protocol. I think it’s a good example.
Steve Fouts 11:36
Yeah, because kids are afraid to put themselves out there in conversations. Adults are too. They think they’re going to say the wrong thing, or it’s going to sound ignorant, or something. But, you set that culture up where you’re going to give your best attempt, and so is everybody else. We’re all going to be correcting each other, so just relax. That’s the whole process part of it. You have to engender that for the conversations to work, no question.
Dan Fouts 12:09
Just to jump in. In our online community, Darren, of which you’re a part, every month we do a conversation where the adults practice the method, thinking about the claim and the counterclaim, then asking questions. The community is really based on what this quote is talking about, getting a little better every day.
Steve Fouts 12:33
Now it’s time to push back, so formulate a counterclaim. Darren, do you want to take a stab at a counterclaim? I haven’t formulated one, yet, but what do you think? Have you done any thinking on this?
Darren Rainey 12:50 – Counterclaim
The counterclaim here is that by the end the goal is perfection. You can grow every day, but by the end of whatever it is you’re working towards, you should be perfect at it. I would argue that is the counterclaim.
Steve Fouts 13:12
There’s nothing wrong with having some type of perfect way to be, and acknowledging that. When you think of very religious people, their gods or prophets are people that they look up to, because they are in a way better than they are. They aspire to them because they believe in the ideals. They believe in the way of life and want that perfection for themselves. That’s the thing that gets you up in the morning. You want to get there. That’s not a terrible motivation. That would get some people up, as opposed to, I’m a little bit better than I was yesterday, but you know what, I’m still nothing. I’m trying to get into that mentality.
Darren Rainey 14:14
I definitely agree with you, Steve. I think having a goal is always a great thing. We should all have a goal to aspire to. My goal is to be perfect or as close to perfect as I can be. That’s not a bad thing. That’s actually a great goal to have. The more important question is how we navigate and how we work towards that goal.
Dan Fouts 14:51
Yeah, I would echo what both of you are saying. For some people, it’s that picture of perfection that gets them up in the morning. I want to win the championship. That’s how many athletes say. I do get better every day, but that’s not my motivating force. My goal is not just to get a little bit better, I have to win. That makes sense in sports. I primarily teach seniors and many of them are going to college. They’re always saying, I want to get into college X, that is my ultimate goal. I want to improve every day here in this government class, Mr. Fouts, but I’m actually headed somewhere else. You’re on my path to somewhere else. That is very motivating for some kids. So, I get that too.
Steve Fouts 16:04
It creates some anxiety though. I don’t want to go back to the claim. Darren, what do you think like? Where’s your head right now?
Darren Rainey 16:12
Yeah, I go back to the idea of perfect, and what perfect means to each individual. Perfect to me might be different than what perfect is to you, Steve. Our goals are different. It comes down to what we define as perfection and what decisions we’re making or actions we’re taking to get to perfection. It’s a process, like you said, Steve. What happens when in our process we meet obstacles? How do we navigate them? What happens when we fail? On our journey we’re moving towards a goal and failure is imminent. In some ways, the only way we get better and closer to perfection is by failing. How do we deal with it? How do we learn from it? How do we navigate the times when we aren’t perfect, or we don’t meet our own expectations? How are we learning from those experiences and using those as opportunities to continue to grow?
Steve Fouts 17:52
You could read this quote from different perspectives. I think we’re on the verge of an essential question here. I feel like we’re building one right now, and I don’t know if anybody has a way to encapsulate it.
Dan Fouts 18:18 – Essential Question
Darren asked, what is perfection? I wrote it down.
Dan Fouts 18:21
That one is very good.
Dan Fouts 18:23
The kids would totally ask that question. Well, what is perfection?
Steve Fouts 18:29
Darren Rainey 18:30
I don’t know you. You just bounce it back? What is perfection to you?
Dan Fouts 18:38
Then, all of a sudden, your conversation is going in a really interesting direction. The kids begin revealing their thinking patterns about this. They’re becoming more aware of their own definitions and how it’s shaping their behaviors. This is why these conversations are so fun.
Darren Rainey 18:55
Absolutely. I remember I did one using a quote from the Dalai Lama about self-discipline and happiness. Dive into the words. What is self-discipline to you? Listen to the different perspectives that kids have on self-discipline. What does happiness mean to you? We can break down this quote and come up with so many different questions just based on the word perfect. What does it mean to grow? What does it mean to set goals and what does a goal look like? You can take this in so many different directions and get so many different perspectives from students that gets them to think about their own thinking. It’s really great, honestly.
Steve Fouts 20:02
Yeah, those big words. I don’t know if you did this or not, but you can always circle these words at the outset of the conversation. Just circle goal and circle perfect. Let’s talk about these words real quick. Are we on the same page? That’s where all the experiences and their understanding of those big words are. It’s going to make all the difference with this quote.
Darren Rainey 20:41
Another question that I had written down…
Steve Fouts 20:43
I’m working on one, too. Give me yours? No, no, I’m still working.
Darren Rainey 20:49
Why is the goal perfection? That’s one that I wrote down.
Dan Fouts 21:00
Why is your goal perfection?
Steve Fouts 21:02
That’s going to reveal a lot about somebody.
Dan Fouts 21:06
Are we in psychology class? They’re going to say, wait a minute, I thought this was whatever class.
Steve Fouts 21:17
Should we strive for perfection? I actually like yours more, Darren, because you’re getting at the heart of it. You’re asking what is perfection. That’s going to reveal so much about what people even think.
Darren Rainey 21:39
Even in the claim he’s talking about those two different ways. He said, small incremental goals. You set the large goal. The goal could be to win a basketball championship. That’s the goal. Or, the goal could be to win the game every night. I’ll get to my goal by winning one game at a time. I win one game at a time, and it takes me to the same place as long as I win all the games. The larger goal could be to win a championship. It’s just two different ways of approaching it. Like we talked about earlier, two different mindsets for how you attack the goals.
Steve Fouts 22:45
I like that a lot. As you were talking, Darren, I thought about how you set goals. Do you set the goal as the championship? Do you set it as each game or even go further? Do you set it as making sure that you’re playing your right role? Forget about the game, that’ll take care of itself. The championship, that’ll take care of itself. What you need to focus on is making sure you’re good at what you’ve been asked to do. If we all do that together, and you have a good coach, honestly, you have a good system in place. You’re going to get there by small increments. You’re definitely not trying to be perfect. You’re just trying to play a role.
Darren Rainey 23:49
The way you put it right there, no pun intended, is perfect. When you’re operating as part of a team or as part of an organization, there are levels to the goals. The organization has a goal, the team within the organization has a goal, and you as an individual within the team within the organization has a role to play and within your role you have goals. It’s like breaking it down from a macro to a micro level. What is my role and within my role, what are my goals to achieve the higher goal or the higher purpose and the higher vision?
Dan Fouts 24:38
Darren, does that thinking fit with the military?
Darren Rainey 24:44
Dan Fouts 24:47
Doesn’t that speak to the experience of being in the military? I was never in the military. Can you talk about that connection?
Darren Rainey 24:55
As a soldier, I have individual drills that I should be competent in. My goal was to make sure that I’m competent. I know how to use a weapon system. My goal is to make sure I know how to perform first aid. My goal is to be physically fit. All of those individual goals helped me to take care of my team. Our goal as a team is to go in and destroy the enemy. In order for us to operate as one cohesive unit, I have to meet my individual goals, so that the team can meet its individual goals so that the larger unit can meet their goals. It’s not just a military thing. As a teacher in a classroom, we might have individual goals to get our students to a certain level of proficiency. We’ll just focus on one days lesson and one days objective. Today, our learning goal is for each student in the classroom to reach this goal. This is the goal that we’re going for today as a team. This is what I need you to do in order to help the team meet this learning objective or this learning goal within the scope of the unit, within the scope of the module, within the scope of the standard that we’re trying to meet by the end of the year.
Dan Fouts 26:39
I like how you broke that down. That was great. Well, do we have any other questions before we wrap things up? This has gone really well. I think we have a lot of questions actually to chew on. This will be an interesting one to work with.
Dan Fouts 27:03
Well, Darren, this was an invigorating conversation using this quote from Simon Sinek. I’m going to just read it one more time in case people have forgotten, “The goal is not to be perfect by the end. The goal is to be better tomorrow.” That one quote got us to a lot of different areas and directions, which is so beautiful about using quotes. You start with an interesting thought, and before you know it, you’re in these very interesting areas of exploration. We did that with the claim and the counterclaim and came up with some good questions. The protocol worked with this one, no question about it. I want to use this quote this year in class. I want to see what my students have to say about it. Darren, thank you so much for bringing your wisdom and insight to this conversation. We really appreciate you and it’s great to see you in the online community, as well. We look forward to collaborating more with you moving forward.
Darren Rainey 28:09
Absolutely. Thank you, Steve. I appreciate that you reached out to me and invited me to the community. It has been very beneficial to be a part of these conversations, to do the initial roundtable, to join the community, and to use it in my school and in my classrooms. I definitely see the value in the protocol. As we’ve seen to date, it does create a space for some really great discussions and conversations. I appreciate the both of you and what you’re doing.
Dan Fouts 28:43
Thanks, everybody. We hope you’re walking away feeling energized by some great ideas and have a sense of confidence that you too can master the art and science of conversations to make a lasting impact. We at Teach Different are dedicated to supporting you along that journey. Please visit teachdifferent.com to join the community of educators for additional resources and engaging discussion among fellow teachers and administrators, free for 30 days. We’ll see you there and next time on the Teach Different podcast. Take care