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Mastery Vs Bestism Vs Perfectionism

Updated: May 6, 2023

I was recently studying about mastery. It got me thinking about the differences between perfectionism and mastery. The question of perfectionism then came up in conversation with a friend and it got me thinking about whether perfectionism is always perfectionism. While processing this, I thought of the term “bestism”. This is kind of a middle step between being a master of your craft and being a perfectionist. So, what are each of these and what are the differences?

I will start with what I think is the lowest level of these three, mastery. By definition mastery is having the authority of a master, having the upper hand in a contest or competition, or possession or display of great skill or technique. In essences, it is either being in control of something/someone or having superior skill in or knowledge about a subject. This does not inherently mean that you are perfect or even the best, but more so that you are skilled in the top percentile. In any sport you look at, even those who are considered masters are not perfect, and sometimes are not even the best. We talk about the mastery of athletes like Tom Brady as an NFL quarterback. Yet, we have multiple different quarterbacks who we compare to him and are better at different components of being a quarterback than he is. Yet Tom Brady is resoundingly considered the Greatest of All Time (GOAT).

This brings us to my term of “bestism”. I see this as not only being a master in skill or knowledge but striving to not let anyone be better than you. A key story that came to my mind about this was from former NBA player, Jason Williams. If you do not know the story, Jason went to prepare for a game against the Kobe/Shaq Lakers at 3 a.m. Kobe Bryant was already in there when he arrived. An hour to an hour and a half later, Jason finished what he was doing and sat down. Kobe was still going. Jason watched him for another half hour before deciding to leave. After the game that night, he asked Kobe why he was in the gym so long. Kobe’s reply was, “Because I saw you come in. I wanted you to know it doesn’t matter how hard you work. I’m willing to work harder than you. You inspire me to be better”. Kobe was not striving for perfection, but to be better than everyone around him.

One step further brings us to perfectionism. Above being a master of your craft and wanting to be the best, you strive for perfection. This means being free from fault or defect. The other two steps to this point have faults. They might be masters or the best, but they are not perfect. Even Kobe had bad games, missed shots, and had faults within his game. To a perfectionist, this would be absolutely unacceptable and would drive them crazy. As an athlete, especially a competitive professional athlete, the mental strain of this is likely to cause a major breakdown. Even non-athletes who are perfectionists struggle with the pressure of needing to be perfect. We all need to be cautious of falling into this mental trap.

In this series, we will talk about each of these mindsets of competitive success individually and the pros and cons to all three. For now, I want to leave my readers with two questions: 1. Athlete or not, which of these categories do you find yourself in? 2. For coaches and athletes, specifically, how can you identify these in practice or the game? What ways do you believe you can use any of these to your benefit without succumbing to the mental pressure that they place on you?

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