Perfect day, perfect man or perfect woman, perfect opportunity, perfect essay; I think you’re perfect……and the list could go on. What the hell is perfect and how do we know that we’re looking at it, have achieved it or are it? How is perfect measured, is it something that everyone wants to achieve or just some of us and is the perfect way the right way? Any thoughts?
I’ve had lots of thoughts about these questions and so I would like to share my ultimate conclusion or should I say conclusions. Perfection is such a complex notion that I do not have one single perspective.
There are benefits to accepting the word perfect; sport people, for example, often strive to be perfect at their game in order to be the best. I use the idea of sport as this is perhaps the first profession that comes to mind due to the obvious competitiveness but there are always elitists in each profession like the lawyer that everyone wants as they have never lost a case, the therapist that has been working for years and has even worked with the famous – surely they are the best…. Striving for perfection means that the person will aim to maximise their potential, to make the most of an opportunity and be the best they can. In different situations, perfection has multiple facets. By multiple facets I’m considering the school kid that is often termed the A* student, but who by their peers is resented for their achievements and for highlighting others’ limitations; the colleague that has just landed their dream job and stood on other’s toes in order to get there. Have you ever been in a restaurant and heard someone refusing to pay their bill as the food or service, or both ,was far from adequate; or perhaps this was you.
Is perfect sounding perfect so far?
There are without a doubt benefits, sometimes huge advantages to the concept of perfection but what about the limitations, apart from people who may not like you for it. For someone to be so focused, to reach their goal of perfection, they need to have clear boundaries for what could potentially get in the way of the achievement; this could limit experiences. For those that are preoccupied with reaching perfection, it is the finer details that need to be in sight and in doing so, surely the attributes of the bigger picture are missed, opportunities are passed and sometimes lost forever. A new mother that has waited for so long to hold her bundle of joy, who struggles when the time comes that they are beginning to walk and make mess, who then follows her child around, immediately picking up the teddy they played with for the whole of two seconds and wiping their fingers as soon as it slipped into the yoghurt pot; will miss the finer beauties not to mention the likelihood of passing down the notion that being perfect is more important than fun and exploration. I think the differences between possible benefits and the limitations is the extent that someone is fixated on perfection and how much someone is aware of their need for it.
I used to strive for perfection; this doesn’t mean that all aspects of my life had to be perfect but it does mean that some areas of my life did not feel right unless I perceive it to be perfect. So what? Well, I discovered that so much of my energy was going into getting things just right; actually let me re-phrase that……so much of my energy went into getting things perfect. I have a joke with a few friends of mine that are similar, the one that can only handle the butter being stroked along the top so not the make big dints in it’s appearance and the one that needs cheese to be cut in a particular way; a particular way that interrupts with my particular way. When we have the opportunity we’ll often sabotage each other’s perfection to our amusement. But really, in the grand scheme of things, why would we waist our energy on the things that bare no relevance to our existence and survival? And more importantly, where does it come from and can we change it?
I hope you noticed that I said ‘used’ to strive for perfection; you could say I’m a recovering perfectionist. Once I began my journey in personal therapy I came to grips with my perfection and realised it wasn’t actually mine. Perfection was something I grew up around and in the process I made it part of who I was. So I worked on giving perfection back to its rightful owner and taking control of my own OKness. Something I realised was that if I strive for perfection, I was never going to feel happy with my achievements as surely, there could always be better. I realised that I didn’t know what perfection was, I just knew it was better. I wasn’t even sure how it was measured, I just knew I had to try hard and if I did, people would be happy and then I would be happy; and this is where the penny dropped. Am I working my ass off for others or myself? This is where I turned my thoughts around and open up to the consideration of what is more important and worth my time and effort.
So then came freedom and experience. A task I would normally prioritise can be left so I enjoy another, I practiced at getting it wrong and what that felt like and I grew with the experiences, I even practice with an appearance that is not perfect; and guess what - I’m still alive!!
Perhaps you haven’t realised that I have a rocky relationship with perfection, that in fact, I don’t like it though in some ways I still admire it. My new phrase is ‘perfect does not exist’ and I love it, it feels so freeing. Why strive for the unattainable and be disappointed, why not set a goal that makes you happy in context of your task, situation and life as a whole, and then smile at your accomplishment; and move on.
Have you ever thought where your own perfectionism comes from? Have you ever thought of giving it back and making your own rules? Perhaps you would like to try it sometime or even practice at being imperfect.