Perfection–We continually strive for it, reach for it, hope for it, sacrifice for it, and sometimes even die still in pursuit of perfection.
It’s one of those words that has a definition, but everyone defines perfection in a different, personal way. Everyone strives for a bar, for that ever dangling carrot–but why? If perfection is a continually receding horizon, why do we chase after it?
Maybe we continually search for it because we had it for a short while, and it felt so good and we felt so complete. Not because it’s expected or the bar set by others, but because we know the possibility of what we can be.
I’m not saying that we should stop striving for perfection, instead we shouldn’t let it cripple us.
LL and I just read and did our first Book Club podcast on Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert–in a section of the book she talks about writing and rewriting her book The Shape of All Things, and how there is a flaw in it, but that if she went back and fixed it, the entire book would change. So she just left it. The book wasn’t perfect, but she would hope in her next project she would achieve something better. She didn’t let it stop her from publishing. Liz Gilbert didn’t let perfection cripple her.
Perfection is irritating because it is so illusive, and once achieved its fleeting. It is either only a moment, or once your own personal perfection is achieved, people look at you and ask what you’re doing next–so a new goal with a new level of perfection is set. My dad models trains. He has had several different layouts–to his defense, he has lived in several different houses. But he continues to build and paint and model…and then after a few years, reconstructs. He achieved an end, and it was perfect or not, but either way he got bored with it and rebuilt. It’s like the pursuit of the perfect train layout is more important–and in a way it is. Dad continues to hone his hobby. His painting skills and details keep getting better, because he is learning new skills or he is finding better products to make perfection.
This scenario makes me wonder if we actually like chasing perfection. We set a goal to reach so we have a reason to keep doing something. We want to become better, have better results. But more importantly we want to fill our lives with something in between the goal setting and the goal achieving. Reaching the goal is great because once there, we realize that we could reach the goal, so we enjoy our moment of perfection and then realize we are capable, or we like the feeling of perfect, and we set another goal.
I work for an event planner and my goal is always to have a “perfect” event. Although, honestly I don’t know what that means. I guess I mean “smoothly run and enjoyed by guests.” Which, in the 11 months I’ve been on the job seems to be the general consensus after each event. However, I always want to do better the next time. I want to have a better script to run by. I want to have more answers to more questions, in case they arise. No matter how perfect an event goes, I want to be better at running them.
This is part of my personality. I do the same thing in acting. When I perform a show, I’m rarely satisfied. Sometimes I when I’m really upset with a performance, I don’t hear the applause at the end, and I feel like I’ve failed. This used to be crippling. I used to think that I couldn’t go do something else until I got this project correct, or figured out everything that didn’t work. But that was stupid–it kept me from continuing my actual growth that I got by DOING.
Life is the pursuit of perfection. No…wait. Life is the pursuit of HAPPINESS. Perfection doesn’t always equate to happiness. So why are we all constantly struggling for perfection?!? Trying to reach a goal is one thing; being perfect is another.
Going back to Liz Gilbert–she just continued through her book and put it out in the world. I do each play, each performance as best I can in the moment and move on to the next. The work, the passion, the filler to get to the goal is the good part, the life, the achievement.
Here are some steps to let go of your need to be perfect:
1) Breathe. Yeah. This is my go to step one, but a really good deep cleansing breath is healing and will assist in refocusing.
2) Ask yourself if you’re trying to achieve a better you or perfection. If it’s perfection, you’ll never get there. Tell yourself perfection doesn’t exist. It’s a myth. Let go of your need to be perfect.
3) Focus on the steps to achieve the goal–how can you do each one brilliantly or to the best of your ability now. With the knowledge you currently have. With the abilities you currently have. With the time and resources you currently have.
4) Research. What did you do differently last time that worked? What didn’t work? If this is your first time, ask around or Google! What products are out there that can help you do better/grow more/ get more done? Knowledge is power. It allows you to face any challenge better. The more you know, the better.
5) Fail. One of my FAVORITE quotes is Samuel Beckett: Ever Tried? Ever Failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
In other words, we get so much out of failure. We understand what can’t be, what isn’t right, what doesn’t work so much better when we fail than when we succeed. Thomas Edison…blah blah, 10,000 tries to make a light bulb, blah blah. Yeah, I’ve heard that one ad nauseam as well. But there is a reason for that: it’s true.
6) Give up the the need to be perfect. Life is messy. Dive into it. Realize perfection isn’t what matters. Because it’s fleeting. Because it’s an ever receding horizon. Because it doesn’t matter.
At the end, there may be a ribbon or trophy or certificate to award your achievements, but those things don’t matter. It’s who you’ve become that matters. Beautiful, snowflake, imperfect you.