The perfectionist paradox
I often wonder why the concept of perfectionism exists in this mortal realm.
My quandary stems from the fact that, if the purpose of human life (assuming you buy into the idea that life has purpose) is to learn and grow from one’s experiences then we are all, by definition, “imperfect”.
Do we experience rare moments of perfection?
Is this a sustainable state of mind?
Frankly, I just don’t see how it can be.
Let’s face it, life is messy at the best of times and unless you sit motionless on a cushion completely devoid of thought – literally doing nothing more than breathing in and out – your mind is bound to wander into the realm of imperfection.
But to evolve, we need a goal to work towards. So if “perfection” is not a realistic, achievable goal, what can we do?
What would happen if we simply sought to become wise and used our thoughts to help us work towards this goal?
The interesting thing about making wisdom your objective instead of perfection is that there is no limit to how far you can travel and your thoughts can function as a safe place to experience “imperfection”.
So, what do I mean by this?
Simply put, “thought” is the realm where we analyse the things that are bothering us, or holding us back, or work on problems, or consider options, until we decide on the best course of action in any given situation.
And, more importantly, it is the process of conjuring up a range of possible actions (or responses to situations) and then experiencing the results of the actions that we ultimately take that enables us to learn to differentiate between good and bad, right and wrong, wisdom and foolishness.
The dilemma faced by any would-be perfectionist is that the moment that even the most enlightened being arises from his cushion and steps back into the real world he is no longer dwelling in a suspended moment of perfection and he is as susceptible to making mistakes as anyone else – a fact that is frustrating, if not angering, to the perfectionist personality.
And so, rather than admit this to themselves, they start to imagine that they actually are a perfect being living in an imperfect world and begin to experience the consequences of living this illusion.
This might not be so bad if they lived on a deserted island with a dog (because a dog always thinks their owner is perfect) and could spend a blissful eternity basking in their “perfectness”, but that is not the case.
Much to their frustration every person they encounter and every problem they confront becomes yet another unsettling reminder of the murky puddle of imperfection inside themselves that they are so desperately seeking to evade.
And the more they try to avoid acknowledging their own imperfection, the deeper they burrow into the “isle of denial” and the more tangled things become.
Left unchecked, this need to maintain the illusion of perfection can lead them to believe that they are always right, rendering them unable to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions – a state that just about everyone would agree is not very wise.
It goes without saying that the perfectionist always starts out with good intention – to be the very best person they can be – but the goal they aspire to is not obtainable.
To realise that you are “perfectly imperfect” and live in peace with this knowledge is the true pinnacle of existence as it exists in our time.
Robin Trimingham is the chief operating officer of The Olderhood Group Ltd and a virtual presenter, journalist, podcaster and thought leader in the fields of life transition and change management. Connect with Robin at https://bit.ly/3nSMlvc or firstname.lastname@example.org