What is Perfection?
According to www.merriam-webster.com perfection is “the quality or state of being perfect: such as freedom from fault or defect (FLAWLESSNESS) or an exemplification of supreme excellence, an unsurpassable degree of accuracy or excellence”. I feel like a weight descended on my shoulders just writing that statement. Perfection is serious stuff. Imagine this scenario. Before birth, you are in line to receive personality traits (think of the new movie, “Soul”, by Pixar). You see one line that’s really short and go over to investigate. As you approach the front of the line, you see a sign describing the trait you are about to receive. It reads:
Welcome to Perfection. You are about to receive the desire to do everything in life faultlessly. Automatically, you will strive to do all activities without error, without failure. You will feel compelled to complete each enterprise immaculately all the time.
Disclaimer: Perfection may lead to the inability to execute plans in a timely manner, increased stress, burnout, anxiety, and numerous physical consequences. Also, humans by nature are inherently flawed.
Yikes! After seeing this sign, it makes you wonder why anyone would want to be a perfectionist. Did they skip reading the fine print? Did they not want to stand in a long line and figured whatever “Perfection” is, they could deal with it?
Let’s take a closer look at this sign. Receiving the desire to do everything in life faultlessly and striving to do all activities without error are not necessarily bad traits. A focus on excellence is a good thing. Being a person with high standards can lead to wonderful outcomes.
Then there’s the disclaimer…. Increased stress, burnout, anxiety, these are all serious consequences of perfection taken too far. Whether you desire perfection from the stance of striving for excellence or from a place of wanting to avoid failure at all costs, the quest for ideal quality may interfere with living life fully and enjoying it. This is what I call the “Perfection Infection”. Like any physical illness, this syndrome may attack any area of your well being and wreak havoc on your career, relationships, and pursuits.
The Downside of Being Perfect
Striving for excellence when writing a report for work is commendable. Quality work is appreciated by your employer and fellow employees because it makes goals attainable. However, turning in your report two days after the deadline because you still needed to review it four more times causing other people to miss deadlines is a chain reaction caused by the “Perfection Infection”.
Think of the notion of finding your perfect mate. Once, I dated a guy who had a pre-teen daughter. He was a nice man overall and we got along well. One day he told me he wasn’t able to introduce me to his daughter because he needed to know our relationship would work out perfectly before he could introduce his female partner into her life. He continued to explain that since he was divorced from her mother and her mother was going to divorce her current husband, there was no way he could bring another failed relationship into his daughter’s life. Wow! That’s a very charged statement to say to your girlfriend. While I totally understand where he was coming from as a parent and I don’t judge him, there was no way I could live with progressing that relationship. I am a perfectionist in many ways and I entertained the thought of being able to meet this challenge. I thought about being a paragon of a wife and a step-mother. Then I realized I would need to be perfect according to his standards and unwaveringly so because any less would make the relationship seem like an impending failure to him. All of that was just too much for me. His need to avoid failure in finding a partner stopped our time together almost immediately because I felt I would never have been good enough in his eyes. The “Perfection Infection” festered to a point where the relationship ended.
Learning a new hobby is a lot of fun. Let’s take playing a musical instrument. If you’re never done anything like this before, you’ll need to develop a new skill set. From learning to read music, performing scales, and utilizing tempo and crescendo to play music as the composer intended, there is much to master. I played the piano for most of elementary and middle school. Some lessons were great and others had me feeling a little defeated. I continued until I decided to focus my time more fully on studying dance. If I sit down at a piano today, I still enjoy playing. This was a place in my life where I was able to avoid the “Perfection Infection” and learn a beautiful art.
Some of you may be reading this and thinking, “Perfection is a good thing. It makes people want to be their best, so as a result they must perform the best.” Well, that’s not necessarily the truth. The Harvard Business Review published an article,”Assessing Performance: The Pros and Cons of Perfectionism, According to Research”, which found “perfectionists are not better or worse performers than non-perfectionists” in the workplace. (https://bit.ly/3rNfM3k)
The downside of perfection is a steep, slippery slope with consequences. The “Perfection Infection” can take over, pervading your life and making you a hostage to its seemingly glamorous prospects. There is a cure for the “Perfection Infection”. All you need to do is aim for “Well Done”. Doing a task well could be even more spectacular than laboring for perfection.
When a task is well done, you’ve managed to complete it at a level which is impressive without compromising everything else which is important to you, including your mental and physical health. If you ask me, “Well Done” sounds pretty perfect.