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Gray is the New Black

When I was a young pup in high school (note: I still am a young pup, just an older young pup), I took a very in-depth personality test that was designed to tell me what to do with the rest of my life. They classified me as a “quintessential introvert”, and I was barely nerdy enough at the time to know what that meant (some might argue that). But I think it was mostly true, and one of the biggest components of this introverted-ness that remains in me today is perfectionism.

You know how when they ask you in a job interview what your weakness is, you’re supposed to answer, “perfectionism”? Well, I’m not actually lying when I say it. Growing up, I always noticed that I could never be happy or take a break until a job was completely finished. If it wasn’t as perfect, I considered it a failure. All my mistakes were gaping holes in whatever I created—a project, a paper, a competition.

One of the worst parts is that I become extremely competitive with people I’m close to, or teams I like. While most people know I have no interest in keeping up with popular sports, the biggest reason is because I am way too competitive and it becomes personal. And not in a healthy way.

Sound familiar?

The relationship between shooting and perfectionism has been an interesting one. Perfectionism is what originally drew me to shooting, along with being able to escape somewhere in my own world. I could pour all of my creativity into fixing problems, and many times it actually worked. I simply wanted to make each shot perfect, and I kept trying until I figured out how.

Thinking about each detail to make a perfect shot happen even while shooting that shot is exhausting, if not impossible. In competition, you simply can’t think about every mechanical necessity, or you will fail. That’s the whole point of practice, after all—to make the process automatic.

I still struggle with perfectionism, and in finding ways to make it my strength. When it rears its ugly head, I always have to take a step back and refocus my perspective. I remember my “smallness” moments—hiking among beautiful mountains, meeting the families of fallen soldiers, or experiencing a joy that seems deeper than my soul. These moments make me remember how small I am, and how small my problems are.

I also force myself to celebrate my mistakes, because they are often the golden opportunity for learning. When my performance is less than stellar at a match, I keep my chin up because I have certainly learned one or two things to put into my “toolbox” for later. No, it wasn’t perfect. But it’s a process, I remind myself, and there’s a goal in sight.

Martha Stewart taught us all long ago that not everyone’s perfect, even when they appear so. People are all kinds of odd, but that’s what makes them likeable (well, interesting at least). Putting together a group of such different people and watching them trying to attain perfection in their own individual way—that’s one of the most beautiful things about the shooting community.

Whether in shooting or in life, most things are not black or white. In fact, it’s near impossible to find something tangible that is mathematically perfect. There’s a permanent gray area of uncertainty and struggle, of fighting for something you can’t always control. It’s hard work for me to embrace that. But I’ve learned that the most beautiful things in life often quietly lie in that gray area, and that’s why they’re perfect.


  • Grant Vlasak

    Happy 10.9 Day, Sarah. I swear, you wrote this about ME. I’m drawn to precision shooting because of the “striving for perfection” that is within me. In many ways, I seem to want very much to find the very best way to do whatever it is that I do, down to small details (my work, grammar, cleaning my car, yard work, punctuation, etc.). I’m sure it’s maddening to those around me. Precision shooting is a healthy outlet and I’ve sometimes said that I would “probably always be involved in shooting sports to the day I die or physically can no longer do it at all”, for no other reason than that I can always keep trying to do it better, more perfectly, more closely to that very best way. Whether I do not do as well as I know I can do, or do well, I always stop and look for what it is about how I did it, and why, that gave the result. I learn about myself, constantly, as much as I do about anything else, in this game.

    Now, I have to post this and re-read it twice for errors… 😉