Pursuing Perfection

Harvest Field

Pursuing perfection is something like pursuing cities of gold or fountains of eternal youth.  For the most part, these idyllic utopian states are just figments of the imagination, a fantasy that drives us mad in its impossible pursuit.

However, I do believe in trying.  Trying is something like that expedition, that journey in search of the utopia but instead of the focus being only on the destination, it just becomes a pinnacle, a summit for which to aim for, but it is the journey that is more important.  If we focus only our destination, we can miss out on so much and many of those things will be more important, more valuable, more enhancing than the mythological end.

I think modern travel offers many parallels.  We focus on destinations, the perfect, and we want to be transported there in the shortest time possible and at the greatest convenience.  Yet, in some ways, we miss out on the most important experience: the journey.  Journeying is about experiencing, discovering and connecting.  Without a journey, a destination becomes almost pointless, it exists merely in sterile isolation as a stereotype but there is no world beyond.  A destination is a resort, a beach, a hotel.  We choose it on its perfection criteria.

Therefore, I don’t think we should ever give up striving, that is the journey, and it can add so much to our own experience.  Placing the focus on perfection normally just brings us disappointment and disillusion.  It’s like insisting on aiming for one hundred percent in an exam where it’s just not possible, not for us, not for our families, not for our circumstances, not for our lives.  We need a ‘bar’ to aim for, to move us forward, to encourage us to achieve but when that bar is too high, impossibly high, then what good can it ever do us?

I recognise myself to be one of the most imperfect specimens of humankind; I clearly see my faults and weaknesses, so perhaps it would be easy to assume that I don’t have a problem with perfectionism.  I also veer to the negative, why would I try for the impossible?

But there’s the danger of perfection and pursuing perfection.

This winter has been one of deep reflection and self-realisation.  I am questioning each and every ‘old’ belief, thought or value and see whether it is really ‘right’, or balanced.   It’s an exhausting process which has taken me away from blogging.  My thoughts are distracted by this personal process and my words are recorded in another place.

I have come to realise that perfection is actually the standard that I have set for myself.  Surprising?  Perhaps.  I accept perfection as the only acceptable outcome, achievement is perfection.  Unsurprisingly, I fail.  I fail all the time.  And yes, I do see that by setting perfection as the destination, I can only fail.  So why do I do it?

Somewhere in my childhood, like everyone else, I acquired a set of values.  How our value systems develop, much less begin, is not an obvious or coherent process.  And sometimes we would do ourselves a favour in examining those long-held ‘values’ and seeing what they really are and whether they are actually of any value to us.

I learnt to equate perfection with achievement and success.  In other words, that achievement and success only happen when something is perfect.  Everything else is failure.  And so began a lifelong career as a failure.  I cannot attain perfection therefore I fail.  Every time.

Failure was, however, an unacceptable option in this value system.  To fail something was to be a failure.  It was something shameful, to be embarrassed about.  So I learnt to avoid the things where I was likely to fail.  Unfortunately, with perfection as the only standard, I risked failing a lot of the time, so the list of things that I avoided grew ever bigger and longer.

I learnt to hide my weaknesses, to bury them under some metaphorical carpet or other.  Mistakes being unacceptable, even unforgiveable, I spent a lot of my youth torturing myself mentally.  Making mistakes made me a failure, making mistakes indicated some grave fault of character or personality.  It all came back to me as an individual, I was supposed to be something impossible and when that didn’t happen, it was my fault.  Maybe I hadn’t tried hard enough.  Maybe I was a bad person.

I was embarrassed by all the things I couldn’t do.  My worth was measured only by the impossible and as I blatantly failed to meet that standard, I lost all self-worth.  With the focus on the things that I failed to be able to do, I quickly became a nothing, a un-achiever, a failure.

There was more to this complex fantasy of perfection.  I acquired the belief that talents are innate, that we are born with certain gifts, if you will.  As if we were programmed at birth to be good at one thing or another, programmed to succeed or fail in certain areas.  Personality thus becomes closely entwined with success.  I didn’t realise that skills not only have to be developed but they can be acquired.  We are not born as adults.  We learn to be adults.

Making a mistake does not indicate that we categorically cannot do something.  That was how I saw it, and perhaps see it still, because old habits don’t go easily.  For example, if you were good at art, the first picture that you drew would be perfect.  And then every other picture afterwards.  No one introduced me to a rubber, to correct and to learn and to develop.  I needed mental rubbers too.  I needed to be able to adjust and develop my self-perception, to rub out one waggly line and to redraw it with a more confident hand.

But neither my hand nor my mind learnt to be more confident.  One strike and you’re out.  That was the philosophy.  And it lives with me still.  I cannot draw because I make mistakes, because my drawing is not perfect.   I avoid drawing.  (Although I’m a distracted doodler, doodles don’t seem to need to reach any particular aptitude level. (Mind you, even those have been criticised in the past)).  I cannot describe myself as being ‘linguistic’, although I love languages and am forever dabbling in new ones and have long-term relationships with dictionaries.  Why?  Because I make mistakes.  Because I have not been taught key elements, I have learnt by osmosis in a rather miss than hit way; there are gaps in my knowledge.  My skills are not perfect.  Therefore they do not count.

Perfection focuses on what cannot be done, what cannot be achieved; striving for perfection means that we miss out seeing and appreciating all the other good things.  Because in a perfectionist world, they cannot count until they are complete.  And that ‘completion’ is impossible.

Actually, it just becomes a vicious circle.  If making a mistake is a categoric failure then it’s all too easy to become disillusioned, disappointed.  You give up trying.  And more importantly, you learn not to trust yourself.  When you have no confidence, you are more likely to make a mistake.  And so the cycle goes on.

I promised myself that this year I would dare to risk or risk to dare.  Trying something, anything, whether large or small, is a risk for me.  It has to go perfectly; it has to be perfect for it to succeed.  I’m starting to realise that this is holding me back.  I’m missing out on too much.  I’m missing out on being myself.

I need to dare to risk or risk to dare.

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