The word PERFECT rolls easily off the tongue. It’s a word we use daily to describe things like storms, pictures and even tv shows like “The Perfect Match”. Perfect makes us feel good and is high praise when we receive it from others. We especially love it when those we look up to in life; people like our coaches, parents, teachers or heroes, speak about our perfection.
Being told we are perfect boosts our morale and makes us feel god-like. Unfortunately, it’s a fleeting feeling but that doesn’t stop we mere mortals from continuing to seek the blissful praise associated with being perfect.
Like most, my first experience of perfectionism came when I was a child of around 9 or 10. My class was drawing a nearby mountain for art studies and my creation was looking pretty darn good. I was very proud of myself and glanced around to find someone to share in my self-approval.
It was then I noticed that some of my peers and teachers were gathered around a student. They were “oohing” and “aahing” saying how perfect the trees were and how his use of colour was incredible. Painting in hand, I wandered over to the group, knowing beyond doubt that my drawing would receive the same praise.
Just one glance at my classmates drawing had me tucking my picture behind my back, as I instinctively realised I was no artist. I felt disillusioned and betrayed.
I had compared myself to others only to find myself badly lacking.
This is where my quest with perfectionism began. Not only did I decide to give up being an artist, but I decided to choose academics as my canvas and set about getting straight A’s. I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams and with god-like perfection set about adding other aspects of my life to this noble quest for perfectionism. Soon I was being the perfect child, sister, student, grandchild and so on. I was on top of the world, or so I thought.
I am not alone in this persistent reach for perfectionism. I recently read a BBC article where researchers at York St John University in the UK have linked perfectionism in students to depression and suicide.
Perfectionism is like the black plague. When left to run rampant, it will kill. It kills your hopes, dreams, desire for fun and importantly your sense of self-worth.
The crazy part about all of this is that perfectionism doesn’t exist. It’s an unattainable myth. Nothing we see around us is perfect. Everything we consider beautiful or amazing or exceptional is flawed. It’s imperfect.
Consider the Mona Lisa – according to Van Gogh; it’s far from perfect. What about the most expensive clear diamond in the world? To the naked eye it is flawless but under a microscope you can see minuscule defects. Nothing in nature is perfect. Everything is imperfect and that includes every living thing. It includes you and it includes me.
How do you cure perfectionism?
Once you acknowledge that nothing in the entire world is perfect, you can let go of perfection and allow yourself to like your imperfect self.
The best way to let go is to fail and fail often. For when we fail, we learn and accept ourselves for all that we are, especially; our awesome Imperfections. Failure allows us to begin to like our flaws and to acknowledge our real self-worth.
As Robert F Kennedy once said: “Only those who dare to fail greatly, can ever achieve greatly.”
When we stop comparing ourselves to others and let our own sense of worth and approval emerge, we become the best version of ourselves and that’s as close to perfect as any of us ever need to be. This is when we truly can achieve great things.