When perfection is not an aspiration

24 April 2021

When it comes to building our lives, prioritizing what’s good, and doing our best to be responsible, we slowly cultivate our meaning and purpose in lives. It’s important to remember that often, this is a learning process. Building a family, starting a career, or struggling to balance both is always going to be replete with mistakes, but over time you learn from them and become more competent as a result.

It’s very commonplace for modern self-help culture and social media inspirational accounts to try and convince us that perfection is not only possible, but it’s desirable. That can be quite damaging to our motivation, because internally, deep-down, we know perfection is impossible, and even if it does exist how much of it we force into being is questionable.

For this reason, in order to counter these narratives and to help us avoid making a great situation artificially ‘better’ without considering the structures we have already built, here are reasons why chasing perfection is one of the worst things you can aspire to.

Perfection Stops You From Being Great

Perfection prevents us from finding everything that’s good about ourselves and what we may wish to improve upon, because when we only consider perfection an acceptable standard, we ignore everything good that has happened trying to attain it.

For instance, consider someone who is defined as being morbidly obese. They know they need to make a change, and unfortunately, it’s taken them some time to come to that conclusion. Never mind, the best time to plant a tree was ten years ago, the second best time is today. So, they begin to lose weight, slowly but surely. They try their best, sometimes having hard days, and sometimes skipping the gym, but largely they find their consistency and learn a new, better normal. They transition from being morbidly obese to becoming on the cusp of being defined as obese.

In a perfect world, with perfect decisions, and the ability to change their actions by rewinding the clock, they may have never gotten to this point. Yet is there anything we shouldn’t celebrate in transitioning from morbidly obese to obese? From putting in those habits that will last a lifetime, and from learning something new about ourselves despite that harsh difficulty needed to get there? Absolutely not. What they have done is fantastic - even if it’s not perfect. If they chastise themselves for getting into this situation in the first place, they rob themselves of their very worthwhile achievement. Then, they’re more likely to subvert that meaning they’ve been living by and put the weight back on again. So, often, the idea of perfection prevents you from feeling inspired and doing what you can. And despite the demands of perfection, all we can do is what we can.

Perfection Pretends Mistakes Aren’t Useful

Mistakes are essential steps on anyone’s journey, and it’s no failing in a human being to make them. Wailfully making them repeatedly is inadvisable of course, and the more you do that recklessly, the more intense the consequences become. That said, perfection pretends that mistakes aren’t useful, and that’s never a useful idea, either.

Instead of feeling ashamed about our mistakes, why don’t we think more fondly of them? Consider them as friends we can learn from, perhaps those that come to us through harsh realization or consequence instead of direct foresight. This way, the next time we make a mistake, we can feel more competent about it and remain interested in what its resolution or lesson could be. If we focus on perfection in life, we never ameliorate that process, we just stay stuck in what should have happened rather than what has. 

Perfection Holds You To An Unnecessary Standard

Unnecessary standards are everywhere in life. Young students might chastise themselves or feel their career is over before it’s gotten started simply because they’ve been accepted into the third best university instead of their first choice. In this case, we can remove all of the positives that we may otherwise be in for, as being educated in our future career is something to look forward to in itself.

Some people might think that starting to order hair loss treatment online is an indicator of their age, a condition they weren’t happy to gain, or something that denotes their youth is over. That’s not true, as beauty standards need not be applied so fervently, and treatments to help your condition exist. Even then, beautiful wigs can be worn, or a shaved style may suit you, or rendering your self-image out of the bounds of your preconceived notion of perfection can help you unlock your confidence through and through, too. This perspective and attitude shift can work true wonders.

Perfection Makes You Less Empathetic

Perfection can make us feel less empathetic about others. Let’s use our example of the person suffering from obesity who may be trying to make life changes. A person who is otherwise fit and healthy may be on the street and see such a person walking past them. In their judgemental moment, they may think ‘what a fool, if only they knew how they were harming themselves!’ Their perception of perfection, even if they don’t meet it, is externalized and used to alienate ourselves from other people and the difficulties they may suffer, of which we have zero real context to understand.

Yet that same person may see that same fellow in the gym that night, trying to work out, and immediately gain full respect for them. Sure, there’s more reason for that respect on the surface, but it’s important to remember that the standards of perfection are still not being met in that sense, yet respect is being shown. Why is this? Because often, we can more easily see how toxic perfection is if it’s being counteracted by something good, instead of something seemingly unhelpful. As you can see - goodness, courage and attempting to be better will always outperform perfection, and internalizing that lesson can help us feel much less reflexively judgmental.

With this advice, we hope you can feel more confident in becoming better than perfect - and that simply means becoming good, in what relative terms you find important to define.


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