The fundamental irony of perfection is that we are taught to strive for it only to discover that it is that ever present striving that prevents us from living a happy life. On the surface perfectionism is an admirable trait as it usually produce excellence, but it comes at a cost. And that cost is the feeling that what we are doing is never enough, we are never enough.
I work in profession dominated by A type personalities. To play the game and succeed, we were all striving to bring not only our A game, but to perpetually push and push so that one day we would be able to bring and sustain our A+ game. Writing this now it reminds me of the old party game of blowing at an air filled balloon to ensure that it never reaches the floor. Having kept the balloon in the air, at the end of the game you are left breathless and dizzy, but with a fleetingly temporary sense of achievement.
I have been researching the ways that perfectionism is ironic and have come up with the following list:
- if ever anyone could achieve the state of perfection, it is doubtful anyone could tolerate that perfectionist for long. Fun is an integral part of life.
- true perfection is about enjoying the moment, enjoying life. Perfectionism tends to rob us of this enjoyment and of our sense of awe and wonder.
believing as a perfectionist that you must never make mistakes means that you will probably look out for any mistakes or signs of failure so you can correct these immediately.
the demand for perfection can actually impede performance. For example, you may turn you into a chronic procrastinator because of the fear of making mistakes. This also extends to being less innovative and creative or less open to new ideas.
- far from being liberating, perfectionism is a psychological dictatorship. As one site puts it:
These personal restrictive ‘prisons’ are built on a solid foundation of rigid rules and assumptions of right and wrong, with walls of ‘should’s’ and ‘ought’s’ and ‘mustn’t’s’, strong bars of perfectionism, unbreakable locks of defeatism, and guards of arrogance on a constant duty to ‘be right’.
This description is so apt. I was trying to describe this very thing in my F post a couple of days ago and was struggling to put it into words. I have discovered over the past couple of years that letting go of the black and white thinking plays a huge part in jettisoning perfectionist tendencies. That, and humour. However it is so very easy to slip back into old comfortable habits, so one must be ever vigilant and practice conscious awareness.
One thing that has struck me already about this Challenge is that in writing about perfectionism, I am taking a rather hard line. I don’t mean too, but it generally reflects the hard line I am taking with myself for having not realised all of this sooner (more perfectionism???). On the surface, perfectionism seems to have served me well, but I am only just getting a true picture of what I have missed in being the perfect perfectionism practitioner.
It is only now, by letting my grey matter think in grey terms that I am seeing colour. And that seems to be the most ironic truth of all.