This of perfection and ideals of aesthetic beauty, high grades or something as simple as design symmetry might spring to mind. But of course, the idea of perfection around ever-changing, multi-layered, complex and unknown quantities of life causes problems. The main one? The moving goalposts of what it would actually mean to be perfect. Everyone’s got different ideas.
Perfectionism, in its unhealthy state, is linked to low self-esteem, a need to prove oneself, self-criticism, feelings of failure, control, overworking, over-whelm and apathy. Any of those sound familiar? Individual ideas of perfection often form at an early age, continuing into the projections of the ways we think we should look, think or be to receive validation, or would gift us a sense of balance and completion. This might take form as your ‘ideal’ self or, a toxic ego.
Now, in some ways, this carrot and the stick tempting forward of perfectionism can have its benefits. In measured doses, it may be constructive, inspiring us forward toward answers and a result, key to developing resilience. However, this is better applied in practical terms than to human beings, speed of learning, personal development – essentially anything that doesn’t have esteem that can be dented or lies beyond our control. Oh. So, that’s almost everything.
So, aside from striking the perfect balance, perfectionism… is not perfect. In fact, it’s the exact opposite, flawed to the max with delays, miscalculations and negativity. For one? It’s short-sighted. Keeping track of every outcome, perfectionism employs binary thinking, sorting complex paths and life choices as either right or wrong, deciding whether something was either a success (perfect) or not. This is agonising for decision making and overlooks the long-term benefits of learning, or things not immediately working out the way you’d originally intended. It also squashes creativity, steamrolling possibilities outside of our narrow vision of what the answer should look like.
For example, many of us can recall a time when we desperately wanted something to work out, perhaps a business, a job or a relationship, that later on, we were thankful to have not worked out in the way we originally hoped. And, even when in the throes of waiting for the better solution, it’s likely the gift of hindsight means we’re grateful to have avoided what we were once blind to at the time. The perfection of desire is not what it once seemed.
It’s tricky though, perfectionism is addictive. When we get things right, our reward centres go off like fireworks on Guy Fawkes, dopamine floods the brain and we feel powerful, and our ego gets a taste of control. It loves it, so wants it again, so anything that doesn’t deliver becomes the binary thinking failure, rather than allowing for the process we took to have been integral to our likely, eventual discovery. Perfectionism also feeds a purist mentality, making you believe you need to be good at all things in order to be good at all.
Overall, perfectionism is a waste of time, and here’s why; When you pursue perfection, you set yourself up to fail and often, huge delays – it distracts energy from reinvesting sooner, spiralling you off course into a whirlwind of negative thinking, or sulking, wasting time over “why did I do that?” instead of “now I know one more way that doesn’t work. That’s great! Next, let’s try this…”. However, when you set your sights on learning, experiencing and gaining new information you’ll get a hell of a lot further. Why? Because of the power we give to the positive. You drop the agonising, torturous ‘failure’ mentality that absorbs time, focus and energy away from your goal and redirect it.
So, here’s your takeaway; you don’t need to be perfect to make progress. But that doesn’t mean just quit on everything either. But find the balance in growth, stop seeing progress as linear or judging all outcomes on face value. In fact, by accepting this as part of your growth, you’ll make healthier, faster and more sustained progress. You don’t need to have all your shit together to be doing great, you are doing great. We don’t judge trees for the scribbles of branches or compare how wildflowers bloom, we let them be in all their own time, knowing deeply how terribly dull it would be to drain them of character and diversity or, in fact, life of it’s possibility.
So, in the same way, let yourself be. Life is weird, and it’s crazy, and there’s no rule book, let alone one to be perfect. Keep learning, keep blooming and becoming more of you. Because you, right in your natural state, are already, a very imperfect perfect you. More of that, please.
I’ll just be here, being perfectly imperfect,