Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in -- Leonard Cohen
These words beautifully summarize my recent brush with ‘perfection’ and my journey into discovering how perfectly mythical it is!
The perfect discovery
I remember the moment clearly. I was a part of the whole party-planning frenzy that my household gets engulfed in, come my daughter’s birthday. The theme this year happened to be from the cartoon series ‘Peppa pig’. And I had decided that the kids will wear ‘pig ears’ to complement the theme.
Several hundred Pinterest saves, and several elaborate trips to the market later, the ‘perfect’ pig-ear shape was arrived at, in pink foam.
So there I was, with my friend, sitting on our living room floor, in a sea of birthday paraphernalia,crafting pig-ears. Quite inadvertently, I picked up an ear from the pile that my friend had cut and began cutting it on an edge that I felt was a bit ragged. My friend caught me in the act and a debate ensued -on how I was obsessed with perfection and how difficult it was to work with me because of this annoying trait.
Despite my lame attempts at self-defense then, I couldn’t help but wonder – what makes one a perfectionist? Are you and I really perfectionists?
Here’s the list I chalked out:
Do you -
- Have an obsession with getting it right, every single time?
- Wait forever for that ‘perfect’ time and setting to begin new projects?
- Beat yourself up for things that don’t go as you had originally planned?
- Find yourself a tad unforgiving about people’s ‘imperfections’?
- Have a ‘not-good-enough’ after-taste in everything you do, once you finish doing it
If you find yourself mentally nodding in answer to most of these questions, it is safe to assume then,that you are, in all likelihood, a perfectionist or lean towards being one. But here’s the catch.
Perils of perfectionism
- You unwittingly quarantine yourself: People around you sense your perfectionist tendencies and assume that they’ll never measure up no matter how hard they try. This doesn’t just hurt them, but you’ll find the offers to help dwindling after a while.
- Every small failure lowers your self-esteem just a little bit more: You find yourself falling short,no matter how good you are at anything and berating yourself for everything that hasn’t gone the way you had planned. This further reinforces the ‘I am not good enough’ belief that has so strongly woven itself into the fabric of your consciousness.
- The magnifying-glass you’re holding, blocks your view of the bigger picture: When you decide to hold onto the idea of a ‘perfect’ outcome in a death-grip and spend all your time and energy in getting the details right, you may perfect it after the many attempts, but the disproportionate time and energy spent on the project, render it sub-optimal.
- You’re out of energy and time: When you aim to complete every task to perfection, you end up completing fewer tasks than you would otherwise. And attempting to achieve perfection in everything you undertake will leave you gasping for breath every so often.
When does it all start?
Research suggests that we aren’t born perfectionists and it isn’t written in our genetic code that we will chase after the fallacy of perfection. What then, makes us so different from the rest of the population that doesn’t obsess over perfectly executed details?
The way we behave as adults is seen to be a function of the barrage of experiences and psychological messages that we get in our growing-up years. So if you got chided as a child for not being like your elder sibling, or if one of your parents, was a stickler for being tidy and presentable at all times – these may have left a deep impact on your psyche as a child. And countless experiences such as these could be responsible for your behavior patterns as an adult.
So, is there light at the end of the tunnel?
The way out
The good news is that this deeply ingrained trait can be changed. The most important step is the recognition that chasing after perfection is a problem and there is a change that’s required.
The following are a few steps that one can take towards addressing this behavior.
- Love yourself, imperfections and all: Accept your flaws as a part of you. Flaws are beautiful. Look at nature – full of imperfections and yet so beautiful.
- Hold yourself gently: Stop mentally scolding yourself every time you haven’t performed well in your eyes. Make a conscious effort to forgive yourself.
- Fall and get up: Don’t shy away from making mistakes. Making mistakes isn’t a sign of weakness.Learning from them gracefully is a big strength.
- Do it now: Resist the urge to wait for that perfect time and place to start something new. Roll up your sleeves. Get your hands dirty. Now.
If perfection isn’t good, then what is?
But is perfection really a bad thing? Aren’t pig-ears supposed to be neatly rounded? What about the satisfaction that comes from doing things well?
Keeping your perfectionist tendencies in check doesn’t necessarily mean that you cut corners and slacken at what you do. What is of the essence here, is a sense of balance – the need to stay away from both the extremes of mediocrity and laxity on the one hand and obsessive attention to detail on the other.
The idea is not to redo pig ears so painstakingly that you forget the ‘party’ and focus only on the ‘planning’. Who cares about a couple of crooked pig-ears anyway, amidst all the screaming and laughter that you hear at the party you helped plan.
That seems like a perfect note to end this article on. Well, maybe not. Maybe there’s a better way to end it. But I think this one’s good enough for now.