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Perfection is not your friend

Let’s be honest, everyone would like to be perfect at what they do. After all, if you were perfect, no one could ever criticize you for anything. And let the honesty continue, we all hate being criticized and judged. It just doesn’t feel good. But I assure you, you too can survive criticism (even harsh criticism). The first place to start is to reject the idea that you need to be perfect. You don’t. You’re not. No one is. And somehow we all find a way to go on surviving despite lacking perfection.

The desire for perfection is often a reaction to fear. The bigger the fear, the greater the pressure you feel to be perfect. Perfection (as an idea) is not bad in and of itself. In its most helpful form, perfection gives us a direction to head toward. Yet for many of us, that direction turns into a destination, which then turns into a requirement. One quick way to assess whether your pursuits of perfection have crossed over into unhealthy territory is to ask yourself whether you have ever used the word “need” instead of “want” preceding perfection. For example, “I want this birthday card to be just perfect for my wife” is very different than, “I need this birthday card to be just perfect for my wife.”

Thinking that we need perfection reinforces a very clear lie in our minds that we cannot handle the consequences of imperfection. The more that we believe that lie, the more we give fear the room to grow. The more that fear grows, the more pressure we feel to be perfect, the more time we waste trying to achieve perfection, and the more time we spend treating ourselves like fragile beings that need to be protected from reality.

A few things to keep in mind:

  1. No one is perfect (not you, not me, not anyone you know).
  2. Despite being imperfect, we all seem to be getting by just fine.
  3. Once you drop the need to be perfect, you can accomplish a lot more.
  4. Perfection was never meant to be a destination; it’s supposed to be like the sunset. Be inspired by it, but don’t try to make it your goal. You will only be met with disappointment.
  5. Remember, there is a healthy balance somewhere between trying to be perfect and giving up all standards for improvement. You’ll know that balance when you feel motivated to improve without the debilitating fear of failure.

Finally, if by some stretch of the imagination you think it is still possible to be the one and only person who can achieve perfection, don’t. No one will want to be your friend. People need to identify and empathize with others. If you become perfect, your friends will no longer be able to identify with you. And that would be sad for everyone you know. So keep working hard, keep learning, keep striving, and completely reject the idea of ever becoming perfect at anything.

 

Shawn Healy, PhD

 

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