What does it mean to strive for perfection? Those we think of as successful today, do they actually think of themselves as perfectionists?
“Have no fear of perfection – you will never reach it.”Salvador Dali
First thing first. Based on the Oxford dictionary, “perfection is the state of being perfect” and being perfect means you are having everything that is necessary; you are being complete and without faults or weaknesses.
Thinking of perfection as being someone without faults or weaknesses, does perfection even exist?
I remember myself years back when I was thinking about perfection as something I had to pursue in every possible way. Perfection regarding my performance in school, in my appearance, in whatever I wanted to create. I even wanted my handwriting to be perfect, round, and of the same shape as the letters printed on a book.
Back then I would strive for perfection every single day. I would describe myself as a perfectionist and I would be proud of it. I really thought of it as an advantage. Who wouldn’t like to be around a perfectionist? Who wouldn’t want to have a perfectionist work for him?
Strive for Perfection – The Dark Side of Perfectionism
Growing older, all I realized was that even if I would try, and I would try really hard, I could never reach the perfect. And most of the time this would make me feel like a total failure.
Thankfully, I realized soon enough that perfectionism, no matter how good the word sounds, is not a good thing. I had moments that I was close to a mental breakdown, I even had people really close to me collapsing due to their perfectionism.
Through my working experience, I have met people who would choose to deliver nothing because what they had worked on and prepared was not close to the idea of perfect they had in their minds. I know people who do not attend important events because they are afraid they don’t look good enough or because they don’t have the perfect outfit etc.
Scientific Proof about Perfectionism Problem
Looking into it a bit more I found out that there are scientific researches that prove that perfectionism is related to many mental health issues. Along with other stress factors, perfectionism may lead to depression, anxiety, anorexia, bulimia, even suicide ideation.
Those who strive for perfection have a tendency to become workaholics and work until they reach burnout. Perfectionism is even related to shortening the years a person may live.
“Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.”Anne Wilson Schaef
Successful People Strive for Progress not Perfection
A perfectionist could never feel pleased or satisfied enough with himself or the outcome of his work. This would lead him to a constant feeling that he is not good or perfect enough.
In most cases, being a perfectionist means that you procrastinate to produce, to participate, and to reach a final outcome. Perfectionists do not allow themselves to be wrong, to make mistakes, to fail, to look ridiculous in the eyes of others.
Perfectionists start their journey in life, or whatever they choose to do, thinking that what they want is “All or nothing”, and because “all” usually comes as the final step of many “little bit at a time”, perfectionists feel disappointed. They feel disappointed because they are not willing to feel pleased with this “little bit”. In their eyes, this “little bit” is equal to failure. And to them, failure is not an option.
Why Successful People are not Perfectionists
Even if perfectionists will succeed in what they had in mind, they would not be pleased. They would feel a bit of a disappointment thinking that maybe the goal was not good enough in the first place. They would always want for something more. And then they would set another goal, and another, and another.
Ok, under these terms, maybe some of the perfectionists are successful in a way. But who wants to be successful without feeling the pleasure of success? And are you really successful if you always want more and more?
I do not claim that setting goals is a bad thing. On the contrary, setting goals and trying to do better each time and become a better version of yourself is great. Every time a goal is accomplished it should be celebrated as a “small” victory. And yet, this is what perfectionists loathe, the “small”.
Success is not a straight line and it neither is only about the destination. To succeed in something means that you allow yourself to be wrong, to make lots of mistakes, to fail over and over again, to look ridiculous, and be laughed at. In other words, all those things that are not acceptable for a perfectionist.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”Thomas Edison
Some Successful People Who Finally Succeeded Because They Failed
Personally, I don’t think I can recall the name of anyone who became successful right away. On the other hand, if I have to mention names of successful people who went through failures I find it far easier.
For instance, Beethoven was thought of his teachers as too stupid to become a music composer. He was actually too busy working on his own compositions than practicing what his teachers wanted him to study.
Michael Jordan, who is considered the best basketball player of all time, was cut from his high school basketball team. Stephen King’s first thriller, “Carrie”, was rejected 30 times before it finally got published. Steven Spielberg was rejected from USC’s School of Theater, Film, and Television three times.
I could go on listing names and failures for pages but I think you got my point.
None of the above successful were or are perfectionists. If they were they wouldn’t have succeeded, or if they did they wouldn’t have enjoyed their success.
All of them followed their passion, worked hard with persistence towards what was meaningful to them. They did not strive for perfection, they tried to do the best they could each time and that was enough for them.
They were not afraid to look ridiculous or to fail because they did fail, over and over again and this is why they succeeded.
Successful people aren’t perfectionists. They strive for progress, not perfection.
“Striving for perfection is the greatest stopper there is. You’ll be afraid you can’t achieve it. It’s your excuse to yourself for not doing anything. Instead, strive for excellence, doing your best.”Laurence Olivier
If you liked this post you might also like “Why you Should Be Thankful for your Difficulties” or “How Anger Affects Your Life and How to Deal With it“
Resources – Relative articles
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFG1b1-EsW8 (Our dangerous obsession with perfectionism is getting worse | Thomas Curran