I am a recovering perfectionist. While some perfectionists feel pushed toward their goals, my inner critic kept me paralyzed in the land of ‘someday’. Someday, I will achieve mastery and be able to deliver a flawless performance. I embraced the saying, ‘practice makes perfect’, and was frozen in endless learning and rehearsal. After years of working with people I realized that I am not the only member of this club.
What is perfection?
The dictionary defines perfection as freedom from fault or defect; a personal standard, attitude, or philosophy that demands perfection and rejects anything less.
Perfectionists, therefore, strive for perfection. This list may include perfect purchases, perfect clothing, perfect hair, perfect skin, a perfect smile, perfect speech, a perfect home, perfect manners, perfect relationships, perfect children, and perfect performances. Members of the perfectionists’ club are involved in continuous, exhausting pursuit of perfection—to be free from all faults. However, no matter how much a perfectionist may attain, there is always something else to learn, to do, and to acquire.
What’s the problem with trying to be perfect?
Through all of this striving, life is passing by. The pursuit of perfection robs the individual of the joy of living.
It took me years to discover that no matter how hard I tried, how much I learned, or how hard I worked, I would never achieve perfection—and even if I did, perfection is not the real goal.
Perfection is linked to control. Perfectionists often believe that if they can just control people, the environment, and circumstances, then everything will turn out, well, perfectly! They exhaust themselves in this impossible exercise. Controlling others is much like herding cats. All you achieve, for everyone, is frustration.
Perfectionism can be comfortable, like wearing an old pair of shoes; no matter how painful the shoes or behaviors are, we are comfortable repeating what we know. Learning a new way of doing anything takes courage and hard work.
Perfectionism isolates me from others. The hard exterior of personal protection does not allow anyone access to the real me. In an attempt to protect myself from the pain of being known and possibly rejected, I find I am alone. The very thing I long for, fulfilling connections with others remains beyond my grasp.
Perfectionists tend never to stay long in one place. They are constantly searching for that perfect friend, the perfect opportunity, and the perfect environment. Initially, they believe that finding the right person or opportunity is what they need and that everyone and everything they have interacted with up to that point is the problem. What they often end up with is a belief that there must be something wrong with them. After all, they have done everything possible, and they still don’t feel fulfilled. So they resolve to work on being more perfect, hoping to cure the problem by eliminating their imperfections.
What’s the answer?
Do we ditch striving to be our very best and settle for being sloppy and careless? No! Neither extreme is beneficial. The goal is to be and do our very best. As with all things, balance is where we find rest.
When an individual operates from a position of perfection, the focus is placed on personal performance, which involves the desire to control other people and circumstances. This is exhausting, isolating, and unattainable over the long term.
When perfectionists operate from a position of doing their very best in every situation and allowing others to act of their free will, they will take on the posture of rest. They will be able to enjoy others and the life they are living.
Perfection is not realistic and is not the goal for a life that is fulfilling. People are not perfect. At times they will disappoint us—intentionally or unintentionally. If we are learning and growing, as all healthy people continue to do throughout life, we will stumble along the way. Let’s embrace our imperfections, spend more time laughing, learning, loving, and allowing our flaws to show.