By Neil Patrick
This month, the saga of Jeremy Clarkson’s departure from the BBC has taken up a lot of headlines and divided the country more than the electioneering. The outlook for Cameron's job have been a lot less interesting than Clarkson's to many people.
The arguments have raged over whether or not he should have been disposed of by the BBC. In the left corner, his detractors say he’s an oaf who deserved to go as his offensive comments should not be acceptable for the BBC. Assaulting one of his producers during an argument over the food menu, cannot be tolerated by any employer. His supporters argue that the global popularity of the Top Gear brand cannot continue without him and that his non-PC and larkish antics bring a much needed dose of anarchy to a somewhat staid and cautious part of the media.
I feel no need to either spring to his defence nor to criticize him. I am sure that Jeremy Clarkson’s career will continue successfully and right now his biggest problem will be deciding which new contract with a rival media firm he will sign. The BBC has earned handsomely from his lengthy tenure and success, and in the greater scheme of things, they will carry on happily without him. Sure, they will suffer a revenue hit, but they will also have a lot less aggravation and fewer PR crises to wrestle with due to the absence of Clarkson’s consistent ability to always offend someone, somewhere, somehow.
This episode highlights something about great careers. Being perfect isn’t a requirement or even part of the recipe. In fact, the harder you try to be perfect, the more your distinctive essence is diluted.
We don’t have to look far for examples. Winston Churchill is often picked as the greatest Briton in history. Standing up alone to confront Hitler and his Nazi war machine when they had just crushed the whole of Europe was considered at the time by many to be as good as national suicide. Yet more than anything else, it was his leadership that inspired a steely resolve in Britain and the Commonwealth to resist whatever the cost.
|Source: Library of Congress, Reproduction number LC-USW33-019093-C|
Yet Churchill’s career was full of failures and uncomfortable details. As First Lord of the Admiralty, in the Frist World War, he was responsible for the catastrophe which unfolded at Gallipoli resulting in the deaths of over 56,000 troops from Britain, France, Australia, India and New Zealand. (My great uncle being one of them). The firestorm bombings by the RAF and USAF of Dresden resulted in the deaths of 25,000 civilians and prisoners of war, but very few German troops.
David Beckham is a perhaps the greatest golden boy of soccer Britain has ever produced. He’s more than just a good player, he’s a global brand, Hollywood A-lister and the face of countless commercials. He has dozens of endorsement contracts including Adidas, Armani, Disney, IBM and Coca Cola. Yet Beckham was the first England player ever to collect two red cards and the first England captain to be sent off. Beckham suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which he says makes him "have everything in a straight line or everything has to be in pairs." Apparently this quest for symmetry causes him to throw things away from his fridge. No surprise then that his wife always looks underfed and unhappy.
Amy Winehouse’s dichotomous public image of critical and commercial success versus personal turmoil and use of drink and drugs was always controversial. The New Statesman called Winehouse "a filthy-mouthed, down-to-earth diva," while Newsweek called her "a perfect storm of sex kitten, raw talent and poor impulse control." Karen Heller with The Philadelphia Inquirer summarised the maelstrom this way:
“She's only 24 with six Grammy nominations, crashing headfirst into success and despair, with a co-dependent husband in jail, exhibitionist parents with questionable judgement, and the paparazzi documenting her emotional and physical distress. Meanwhile, a haute designer Karl Lagerfeld appropriates her dishevelled style and eating issues to market to the elite while proclaiming her the new Bardot.”
Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning on 23 July 2011.
My point is simple enough. No-one is perfect. That’s obvious. But if we accept the restraints that others require, we dilute or even discard our very essence. Clarkson would never have achieved success without offending someone. Beckham’s OCD creates a form of visual discipline which makes him think differently to normal players. Churchill could never have saved Britain without killing innocent people. There was a tragic inevitability that sooner or later Winehouse would kill herself.
A quest for perfection on other people’s terms is worse than pointless. It risks destroying our capacity to harness our full unique potential. The trick is to harness our imperfections in a way which delivers what people need rather than what they think they want.