“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali
Having no mistakes or flaws. A state of being that I think most of us try to reach at some point or in a specific area of our lives. Yet, as Dali points out, it is a state that can never be reached. What a frustrating reality!
And perhaps the worst part is that we fool ourselves into believing that if we just try harder, do something different than we have done before, or put in a little more time and effort we can reach perfection…and so that is what we do time and time again. But all we end of doing is creating anxiety and frustration for ourselves…we end up feeling as if we have failed in some way or that there is something wrong with us as a result. We’ve all been here haven’t we? Whether you want to be the perfect parent, the perfect student, the perfect athlete, the perfect sibling, the perfect employee, the perfect neighbor, the perfect party planner, the perfect gift giver, the perfect child, the perfect leader, the perfect artist, the perfect spouse, the perfect writer…surely we have all been there at least once in our lives.
Reflect back for just a moment to one such time, maybe not so long ago, when you were trying very hard to be perfect at something. Think about all the things you did, all the time you put in, and all the thoughts that were going through your mind…
Now think about how you felt when, at the end of it all, you realized it still wasn’t perfect. Whether someone else pointed out flaws, whether you realized after the fact that there were things missing or whether it was rejected in some way by the very people you were working on it for, what thoughts went through your mind at that point? Did you mentally berate yourself for being unsuccessful? Did you feel like a failure? Did you start making excuses for why it wasn’t perfect? Did you begin thinking of what to go back and fix or do differently? If you are like most of us you probably had some combination of all of those things going through your head.
Isn’t it interesting how little compassion we have for ourselves when we don’t “measure up”? Imagine for a moment it was your friend or your child or another family member who put all that time and effort into something and was working through all those emotions surrounding it not being perfect. Would you tell them they were a failure or that they are incapable of doing decent work? I would venture to guess that you would not. In fact I’d be willing to bet you would encourage them and build them up. Yet, why don’t we do that for ourselves? Why are always so much harder on ourselves?
Striving for perfection in and of itself is not an inherently bad thing. Where we go wrong with it is when we allow the desire/need for perfection to rule how we do things, how we respond upon completion, and how we treat ourselves in the end. It is a fine line. We want and need people to do their best work, in essence to aim for perfection, but we have to also realize and come to terms with the fact that we will never reach perfection and that is okay too. It is a difficult balance to say the least.
Some final thoughts…to paraphrase a quote I once read, the one person deserving of your love and compassion more than anyone else in the world is you. If you can’t give it to yourself, you will not be able to give it fully to anyone else either. Start with yourself and then work outwards from there. We are all imperfect humans…embrace that fact and love those imperfections rather than pick them apart. Reach for perfection but know and understand you won’t ever obtain it…and that’s okay!