Perfection: Why It’s Not Good Enough (and Why It’s Exactly What We Need)

by Belinda Munoz on November 12, 2009

broken seashell

It’s nearly the eleventh hour as I face my computer deciding on a topic for my next post.  I go through my drafts and nothing seems good enough to share.  Not the incredibly beautiful day I had with my son, not the struggles I’m going through being sick and hoping it’s not H1N1, not the enlightening talk I attended with Nicholas Kristof, not the way I fell hard for a gubernatorial candidate and how he broke my heart two days later.

If you’re still reading this, I’m guessing you know what I’m talking about.  We’ve all chased it to no avail at one time or another.  Some of us more habitually/obsessively/compulsively/delusionally/neurotically/pathologically than others.

Perfection. 

MY DEFINITION OF PERFECTION

  • It’s like Brigadoon only more imaginary.
  • It’s like world peace only less possible.
  • It’s a conundrum caught in a cycle of self-correction and self-destruction.
  • It’s an indulgence more luxurious than a private jet.
  • It’s a vice more intoxicating than wallowing in our own insecurities.
  • It’s reality idealized and ideals realized.  Neither could be farther from ideal.  Nor real.
  • As alluring and seductive as it is, it’ll forever remain a tease.

8 REASONS WHY PERFECT ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH (pun intended)

  1. Because we’ll always be judged no matter what we do.  If not by us, then by others.  If not now, then another time.
  2. Because it just ain’t worth the investment.  Not the stress or distress.  Not the time.  Not the money.  Definitely not the honey.
  3. Because good enough is good enough and great is great and perfection is…not gonna happen.
  4. Because there will always be room for improvement.
  5. Because it’s unrelatable (yet funnily enough, the pursuit of it is entirely relatable).
  6. Because it wouldn’t be perfect if it were attainable.
  7. Because it lives in the sea of diaphanous illusions and we live in the land of murky truths.
  8. Because it’s a construct best left in the realm of Willy Wonka’s pure imagination.

WHY PERFECTIONISM IS EXACTLY WHAT WE NEED

While I couldn’t resist having a little fun putting these thoughts in print, I’m betting you’ve all had similar thoughts.  And the reason for this is because chasing perfection is hard-wired in our make-up.  As natural as wanting to please others.  As everyday as twenty-four hours.  As typical as problems have solutions.

It’s just like when we see intense beauty and we want to capture it.  An instinct.  A penchant.  A predisposition.

We don’t need perfectionism so we can have an edge (or keep our edge).
We don’t need perfectionism to stay inspired.
We don’t need perfectionism to aspire to do the best we can.

Here’s the reason why perfectionism is exactly what we need:  because in the chase of it, we will find under no uncertain terms that flaws are here to stay.  They’re not going anywhere.  Our flaws and other people’s flaws.  And these flaws that you and I share appeal to the best of us because through our flaws, we have amazing opportunities to bond in very real and meaningful ways.  No big mystery.  Just another proven, timeless, simple truth.

We could trudge through our days the hypocritical way, or we could acknowledge that we’re all imperfect and begin to build bridges.  Establish connections.  Begin collaborations.  Link arms.  Hold hands.  Make the dream a little more real…

Which one will it be?

YOUR PERFECT ONE-LINER ABOUT PERFECTION

It would be perfect if you would share one (or a few!) of your own one-line definition of perfection.  And since we’ve established that perfection is unattainable, a comment from you would be good enough if not great!

Even the best needles are not sharp at both ends. ~Chinese Proverb

Image by LethaColleen

{ 3 trackbacks }

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Positively Present November 12, 2009 at 8:48 am

Oooh, great post. And I love that quote at the end — never heard it before!

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2 Fr. Michael November 12, 2009 at 1:56 pm

I think perfection is a great goal, but it can lead to great frustration. I experience that frustration every day when I see how imperfect I am! A friend of mine always likes to remind me that it’s about “progress, not perfection.” Even though I’m imperfect each day, I can at least try to make some progress in some area each day as well.

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3 Patty - Why Not Start Now? November 12, 2009 at 3:37 pm

Belinda, this is probably the best reframe on perfectionism that I’ve ever read. Well, okay, I also love the riff Bayles & Orland do on it in “Art & Fear.” But what you’ve done here is capture the archetype of perfectionism, its creative soul, recognizing that in the seeking of it we get closer to truth, including the truth that it doesn’t exist. It’s one of those grand paradoxes of life. My one line definition:

Perfection sparks the fire, but the resulting blaze is beautifully imperfect.

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4 LPC November 12, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Perfectionism is whatever makes me sigh in satisfaction. I take a very visceral approach. If I get too intellectual I get lost in a hall of mirrors on this one.

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5 Karlil November 12, 2009 at 5:28 pm

Great post Belinda. And one time, I always struggle to get a post ready. The source of this problem is, as you have guessed. Once I got past the need to get the perfect post, I ran my words and get posts ready in a matter of 2-4 hours. Half of what I usually spent.

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6 robin November 12, 2009 at 6:03 pm

in read this once and have never forgotten it:
“Perfectionism is the highest form of self abuse.”
My other favorite is: “The enemy of the good is the perfect.”
Both sage advice…

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7 Ideas With A Kick November 13, 2009 at 1:26 am

Perfection is an illusion. Especially in a world where most things are fairly relative. And so is the idea that if your manage to get your moment of perfection, then you’ll be happy. Maybe for 15 minutes or so, but I’m thinking: is it worth it?

Eduard

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8 Tina Chou November 13, 2009 at 8:12 am

Cheers Belinda,

I haven’t been commenting but I am reading faithfully! This one I had to chime in; I struggle with the concept of perfectionism–when to keep working away at something and when to let go. Personally I like things to be as perfect as humanly possible and I get some ribbing for it. I like your idea of perfectionism as a way of revealing the flaws we all have to work with.

For me, perfectionism is the rabbit hole I always choose to go down! Maybe that is my one liner.

Tina

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9 Lori November 13, 2009 at 10:16 am

Hi Belinda,

As a consummate perfectionist, I found this post very helpful. I have sat down at my computer many times only to find myself clueless about what I had to say that would be worth saying. I’ve dealt with perfectionism in every area of my life–and it’s caused me a great deal of anxiety.

I love the way you reframed perfectionism because I’ve actually been a perfectionist ABOUT being perfectionist–as in, if I were good enough, I wouldn’t beat myself up for not being good enough. It’s enough to make my go cross-eyed!

Perhaps the answer is, as you expressed, simply acknowledging it’s human nature to want to improve ourselves; but then learning to trust that we can make incremental improvements without allowing perfectionism to create so much stress or unhappiness.

This is the single-most important lesson in my life journey–and it was especially relevant to me this week. Thank you for this wonderful and timely post!

Lori

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10 Lisa November 13, 2009 at 11:24 am

Perfection, to me, is *graceful* imperfection.

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11 Miche - Serenity Hacker November 13, 2009 at 2:03 pm

Hi Belinda, what an insightful post! I love the lists about what’s good about “perfect” and what’s not!

“It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection” ~The Bhagavad Gita

I wrote a post about how we’re all just imperfect anyway, based on the famous quote by Wavy Gravy the clown.. this is my favorite quote on how we’re really all imperfect:

“We’re all bozos on the bus, so we might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.” ~Wavy Gravy

The post is here http://bit.ly/1G5KEJ
if you’d like to check it out. It wrote it when I was feeling the same way you’re feeling today, and couldn’t shake it. Writing the post was cathartic, actually! And was my homage to the imperfection inherent in each of us… we should celebrate it!

Cheers, and thanks for sharing this!
Miche 🙂

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12 Liberty November 13, 2009 at 8:34 pm

Your writing is an example of perfection :-).

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13 Grace November 13, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Amen to Liberty!

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14 Patrick @ unwrapyourmind.com November 13, 2009 at 9:54 pm

The damn thing about perfection is that it just happens to us from time to time, and we admire it so much, yet have no clue how it came to us. That leaves us in frustration because we want it so much we want to be able to repeat it. But we need to understand, that like bliss perfection is something that couldn’t be created, it could only be experienced. And perfection is the point in time and space, when we realize that everything (with all its flaws) is indeed perfect – just not by our own definition of it, but by Gods definition.

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15 Justin Dixon- AlittleBetter.net November 16, 2009 at 4:19 am

Our personal highest perfection is something we should chase hard after, but we must never let its pursuit stop us from moving forward.

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16 Madeleine November 22, 2009 at 5:06 pm

Belinda, I loved this post, and clearly you’ve provoked lots of interest. Personally, I’ve gotten a little better about pressuring myself to be perfect, and two things have helped me.

One is Toastmasters where every speaker has an evaluator who says what the speaker did well and offers a suggestion or two for improvement. So no mattter how wonderful a speech may be, there is always something one could do to make it even better.

The other is writing. From time to time, I’ve come across something I wrote a long time ago and thought “Wow, this is really good.” (Not perfect, but really good.) So perhaps some distance from our work helps us see it in a clearer light.

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17 Jenn February 22, 2010 at 2:35 pm

I was thinking about writing an article on letting go of perfectionism. I love your point of view. There are reasons to keep it around. Thanks for a fresh perspective.

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18 pam January 22, 2011 at 11:04 am

maybe we keep striving for perfection because in the beginning God created man and woman perfect. perfection lost in their sin but the inherent desire still there.

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