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Life is Not a Game of Perfect is from a sports psychologist known more for his books about golf and improving one's performance across a wide range of sports. In fact, his books in this genre are well-written and should be required reading for anyone who a penchant for sports. Rotella is a consultant on top of that, and some of the biggest names in golf have worked with him.
It should not be surprising then that this is a book filled with sports analogies, a lot of which will get tedious after about the first three or four chapters. While Rotella makes an effort to include analogies and examples from outside the sports world, it seems to be a pretty hollow one by the time you finish the book. That's too bad, since a lot of what he has to say really does make sense in the real world as readily as it does in the world of game-play.
Did I say "make sense?" Well, yes, it makes sense, but the book is full of those truisms we all hear too often from people who seem to lead more successful and exciting lives than our own. It's easy to look back on a successful career or life and try and tie up how you got there (or how other people achieve their goals) with a few trite sayings. Rotella's got a lot of them, 26 in fact, which go to make up an Appendix labeled Rotella's Rules. These rules are hardly new or exciting. They include ideas such as, "Real talent is something anyone can develop;" "Success in high school has little or nothing to do with success in life;" "People with real talent believe they can accomplish anything they set their minds to until proven otherwise. People with real talent have confidence."
Real talent is what Rotella refers to as anyone who can live by his rules and succeed. (Little is said about what happens to those people who might live by his rules and still fail!) Rotella makes a differentiation between real talent and just plain old talent, or skills. I'm not sure the differentiation is all that important, or even valid. My dictionary defines talent as "special or very great ability" and skill as "the ability to do something well." Rotella never really defines what he means by real talent, except as a set of things which can lead to success. People who have real talent will succeed.
Once you get past these confusing distinctions, the book settles into a familiar pace of making a proclamation ("Rotella's Rules"), and then using anecdotes to support it. He gives us stories about everyday, normal people whom he grew up with who are now the captains of industry. Although they all seem to vary in their skills, abilities, and backgrounds, the author imbues each of these people with the distinction of having real talent. Not so much because they adhere to all of Rotella's Rules, but because they have become successful in the areas in their lives which mean the most to them.
What means most to them appears to be their careers or playing sports. Very little is said here about relationships and social contacts which make up a large part of our lives and how we feel about ourselves and the quality of how we're living. The focus of this book is career success, which I guess translates into life success for Rotella. I found the focus on careers and work and sports to get a little boring after a while. What if your "real talent" were to help raise a great family full of kids, or to care after your elderly parents? What if your "real talent" is to work day-in and day-out in some inner-city projects because other avenues of employment were closed to you (because of your skin color, socio-economic status, or something else)?
I did find some enjoyable aspects to the book, especially some of the anecdotes and the "Rotella's Rules" which spoke eloquently and didn't seem like truisms. For instance, on page 38, Rotella writes how the noted psychologist William James remarked, "People tend to become what they think about themselves." Rotella rewords this to become one of his "Rules:" If you think of yourself as able to do something, you probably will do it. If you think of yourself as incapable, you probably won't. Reinforcing the free will philosophy, Rotella's tome focuses on a "pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps" strategy. This may work for some people, but internal reinforcements of this sort are not always convincing.
I think there are people who will benefit from the book, especially anyone looking for a more successful philosophy of life or living to replace their existing philosophy (or at least supplement their existing philosophies). Anyone who loves sports and golf in particular will enjoy this book if they would like to generalize some sports strategies to life. It's not that this is a bad book... It's just that I think we've seen a lot of these kinds of books before -- and I'm sure this won't be the last -- where someone who has been successful in one area of their life tries to generalize the strategies of success they've learned in that area to all of life. For some people, it may work; for others, it may not. It's up to you to decide.