THE GREAT ALLURE OF PERFECTION
“The greatest mistake a man can make is to be afraid of making one” ~ Elbert Hubbard.
Perfection, oh… to be perfect… we all get caught up in seeking perfection in some aspects of our lives; be it day-to-day activities at the office, or back at home, wanting the perfect relationship, the perfect child, the perfect grades, wanting to be the perfect wife or perfect mother…there is some aspect in our lives where perfection is what we strive for. Sadly, it is only to our own detriment. Perfection is impossible. The only place it leads us is towards self-sabotage.
But before I scare you off and completely alienate you… let’s just sit back and break it down. Easy does it…
According to Wikipedia’s definition of “Perfect”:
The word “perfect” is derived from the Latin word “perfectus” and “perfection” from the Latin “perfectio“. Both of these expressions originated from “perficio“, which interestingly enough means “to finish”, “to bring to an end.” “Perfectio(n)” thus literally means “a finishing”, and “perfect(us)” — “finished”. Interestingly, the genealogy of the concept of “perfection” reaches far beyond Latin, and heads all the way back to the Greek and the Greek equivalent “teleos” which has generally been translated as “completeness”. In essence perfection meant “to complete”, WHY you ask has it evolved into something that we strive for? Why indeed?
Perfection is something people strive for because they feel it’s a standard, an ideal that we set for ourselves and an idea or notion that society demands of us, and totally supports. The world we live in is filled with “perfection”; the quest for the perfect body, the perfect life… it is all around us – from the glitzy, high-gloss magazines we read (which we often forget are AIRBRUSHED), advertising billboards for the “whitest, brightest smiles”, “washboard abs in 90 days”, the obsession with youth and reversing the most natural occurrence in our lives, aging. All of the pervasive social media surrounding us only contributes to the compounding madness of attaining “perfection” and creating the idea that it is within our reach, but sadly it is only a trap.
Universally speaking, perfection is the enemy of outcome; regardless of how evolved a person is spiritually, emotionally, psychologically… perfection will always make you fail, and make you feel like you haven’t quite measured up or attained what you need to. No matter what you do or how you’ve done it, you will ALWAYS think you could have done it better. It is often for this reason that perfectionists have a tendency to procrastinate, according to Tal Ben-Shahar’s book, The Pursuit of Perfect, Tal Ben-Shahar makes a profound observation, (when I first read it I had to read over and over again), he says “people who are chronic procrastinators are afraid to begin a project or task if they aren’t certain of the perfect outcome.”
I was intrigued, because for me, and the way I approach most things in life, I am a go-getter, you know, “Rest is for the weary, no pain no gain”, but sometimes I catch myself procrastinating in certain situations, and under close inspection I discovered that it is because I fear that I would not have the desired “perfect” outcome. This reaction can become crippling, self-sabotaging.
Perfection can be alluring, especially when you consider how many other problems we could have (if we had the luxury of choosing our problems), if we consider feeling guilt, shame, having low self-esteem, or low self-confidence… as a “choice” of problem, perfection seems like a “good” problem to have. What’s so bad about perfection anyway or wanting things to be perfect? Ooooh so alluring, soooo tempting… and it is for this reason that perfection can be one of the most damaging aspects of self-sabotage. Perfection is a moving target that always gets further away, but the endeavor to reach it drives the perfectionist on, which can only result in disappointment.
Nothing and no one is perfect, and working toward perfection eliminates creativity and freedom from our lives.
When I started writing this blog I was inspired by the story of Alasdair Clayre. He was a star student at Oxford University and later became one of the most celebrated scholars; winning accolades, awards and fellowships. Not one to restrict himself to the ivory tower, he published a novel and a collection of poems, and recorded two albums that included some of his own compositions. He then wrote, produced and directed “The Heart of the Dragon,” a 12-part television series on China, which won an Emmy Award, but Alasdair was not there to receive it. At the age of 48, shortly after completing the series, Alasdair committed suicide by jumping in front of a moving train.
Would knowing that he was about to win an Emmy have made any difference? Alasdair’s ex-wife was interviewed and she had said that the Emmy was a symbol of success that would have meant a great deal to him, that it would have given him self-esteem, but she added that he had so many symbols of success, far grander than that of an Emmy, yet none of them satisfied him. He needed a new one each time he did something. Ultimately, Alasdair never considered anything he did to be good enough. Although he was clearly a great success, he was unable to see himself as successful.
WHERE did he go wrong?
Firstly he consistently measured himself against standards that were almost impossible to meet (this is the plague of the perfectionist), and secondly, perhaps most importantly, when he did achieve the near impossible, he would quickly dismiss his success as trivial and move on to the next impossible dream. He NEVER acknowledged his accomplishments.
Alasdair Clayre’s inability to enjoy success captured three aspects of perfectionism:
1. Rejection of failure:
We see this in school children who are afraid to think outside the box, in attempting to be perfect for their parent or teacher, their creativity becomes blocked.
2. Rejection of painful emotions:
We see this in people who have had their hearts broken and struggle to love and trust another again. Perfection can become the substitute for trust, because if you seek out your “perfect” partner thinking, “I want you to be perfect, because if you’re perfect you can never hurt me”, you’ll never find that “perfect” person, therefore always rejecting the idea of a relationship and never putting yourself out there to be hurt again, keeping you “safe”.
3. Rejection of success:
We see this in the workplace where innovation is sacrificed for safety and mediocrity, because by attempting to be perfect we block our unique capabilities of creativity.
The desire for success is part of our nature. Great expectations can indeed lead to great rewards; however, to lead a life that is both successful and fulfilling, our standards of success must be realistic and we need to appreciate our accomplishments. To appreciate our accomplishments there can be no room for judgment there of ourselves. Be the best you can, give yourself credit for your accomplishments, no matter how big or small they may seem. You are perfect in your imperfections; they make you unique, diverse and interesting. Love yourself for who you are, and do the best you can. That’s all anyone can ask of you.
1. Are you a procrastinator?
2. In what area of your life do you strive for perfection?
3. Is your pursuit for perfection hindering your pursuit of happiness?