What We Lose From the Pursuit of Perfection
I used to think being a perfectionist was a positive quality. Some years back, I remember taking a quiz in some teenage magazine that promised to reveal your true qualities (which of course everyone knows is the most factual way to learn about yourself) and I would always get some form of perfectionist as my result.
I thought that was a good thing, so much so that I probably rigged my own self-test to come up this way (again, best way to honestly learn about oneself). However, now that I have lived life a little more and have children of my own, I am not so excited to jump on the bandwagon of perfection. Yet, not everyone sees perfection as a negative thing.
The Perfect Everything
The perfect family, the perfect body, the perfect clothes, the perfect school, the perfect job - even the perfect teeth! Why are we so invested in this idea of having/being the perfect everything?
Marketing has been capitalizing on it forever. Showing us images that evoke certain emotions, promising us their product will finally bring us that perfect ideal – that relationship, that family, that job, that house. And actually, I don’t think it is actually about the ideal, but instead about the security. It is the assurance that we are deserving of these so-called good things.
Our definition of what is perfect is what holds us back. Especially as women, we tend to be constantly proving our worth. If you can manage to master each realm of your life, you have reached perfection. The thing is, there is no such thing as perfection, as it all just perspective.
We Don't Need to be Better Than Others
If we stopped reaching for this illusionary dominion of excellence, we wouldn’t need to put other women down. We wouldn’t feel inferior with a need to prove ourselves. There wouldn’t be breastfeeding versus formula feeding wars. There wouldn’t be the working-mom versus the stay-at-home mom. There wouldn’t even be the women with children versus the woman with no children.
These battles take away our own definition of perfection, and instead create an external one based on what society thinks is right at the moment. They bring us up when our side is up. They knock us down when our side is down. We ping-pong back and forth to the whim of what is popular at the moment. We are giving our power to others to determine our worth and therefore losing ourselves in the process.
I think the underlying notion is we all want to know we are on the right track, at least in the vicinity of the right track. It comes back to the notion of security. Not being perfect opens the doors to quite a bit more vulnerability, to judgment, to attack, to possibly feeling less than or excluded from the group that somehow made it to the imaginary track from above. Being perfect means many things; no one can hurt me, I am not wrong, I am likable, I am accepted, I am worthy - I belong here.
If We Are Not This, We Must Be That
If we are not perfect, then we must be imperfect. This absolute thinking results in an all or nothing mindset, leaving little room for self-acceptance, and thus happiness. If we are not smart, we must be stupid. If we are not skinny, we are fat. If we are not beautiful, we are ugly. If we are not loved, we are hated. See where I’m going? We deny all aspects of ourselves because we have accepted some unattainable illusion of perfection as our ideal. And the crazy thing is, it’s all perspective. It is all our own definition of what we think we should be, what we think we should look like, how much money we think we should have, etc.
Our neighbor, our mother, our friend, our society - they all could have a different definition of so-called perfection, so all of the harsh judgement we put on ourselves, is dangerously at the whim of someone or something outside of ourselves.
Turning Over Our Power
We turn our power over to these external decision makers, letting our self-worth be determined by their definition of the ideal way to be. When we give away our power, we lose our ability to trust ourselves, to feel we are worth something without someone else saying so.
Occasionally, that perfectionist side of me joins the game according to the rules of someone else. Soon after, it all blows up in my face, humbling me back to where I was before I began my quest, reminding me that I really know what is best for myself. So I’ve learned along the way, it’s not about condemning perfection; it’s just about changing my definition.