The Pain of Perfection

Why are some of us so powerfully drawn to pursue perfection, while others couldn’t give a rat’s patoot?  Is it a particular upbringing that makes some people so driven?  Or do some people just have an innate call to seek exactness and purity?

Sometimes I wonder if some people are just more “yang” and some are more “yin.”  And I wonder if those with more yang are just yearning for a return to the heavens, or spiritual perfection.  Maybe the messiness and struggle and imperfection of physical existence is too much to bear.

Striving for perfection, though, can cause  us to miss the beauty of “lessons learned” and the satisfaction of overcoming an obstacle.  I know some people who will quit if they can’t be perfect, and some people who will tear themselves down for failing to reach perfection.  I’ve certainly been guilty of beating myself up for not reaching a goal  or standard.  I’ve even carried that guilt around for years when it comes to certain issues.

But maybe we should remember the yin-yang symbol, in which the white section has a bit of black and the black section has a bit of white.  And maybe we should remember that yin cannot exist without yang and vice versa.  They are complementary and interdependent.

Maybe we can strive for excellence, and leave behind the pain of perfection.  Fruitlessly pursuing something that is not even possible seems to be a waste of time and denies us the joy of learning.


YinYang Symbol

4 responses

  1. Very well said, Aimee, on pursuing perfection. It can drive one crazy to have perfection.
    Everyone has different potentials in different things, we just have to accept what we can bring to that day and do our best. Sometimes perfection is not the answer, something to think about.

  2. Love the topic. (Believe it or not) I think it’s important to bring logic, notsomuch emotion or preference, to the idea of perfection.

    Here’s a metaphor that helps me personally and that I use in therapy with perfectionists – especially people who struggle with OCD and eating disorders: A diseased cell is perfect. Why would I say that?! Because it is a logical outcome of all conditions that shaped it. My not wanting it to be in that state is understandable but irrelevant to the rightness of its state, given what environments it’s been living in.

    My denial of its state is in fact a part of the problem that led to its state. Not noticing when the cell (or mind or body or relationship) is a little “off” and making adjustments immediately will eventually necessitate a big ole emergency that demands my response. Looking right at how things are – perfect in any degree of positivity or negativity – is very helpful when seeking a realistic way to reshape them. Taking the refusal and panic out of the way things are is the first step in a kind disciplined path to a healthy cell, a healthy body and mind, and healthy relationships.

    Another metaphor for someone who cleans a house to detrimental extremes: A dirty room is perfect. The dust is there because humans shed skin cells and the pollen count is high and the walls are peeling. Be nice to the dust. It’s doing what it’s supposed to. Be nice to yourself. The dusty situation may offend you but isn’t inherently insulting or blaming or a measure of your worth. It’s ok that it is there. It’s ok that you don’t want it there. Now, go ahead and clean. The cleaning will happen either way, but I think a calm accepting mindset is a good thing to bring to it.

    In relationships: That train wreck of a break up is perfect. It’s a result of confusion and pain and history that we can never wrap our heads around. We don’t like it, it burns me up it tears him down, ok. That’s all perfect too. Now I can stop fighting so hard against that yuck because it’s logical that it be there. Now I can stop freaking out and work to prevent future yuck with greater mindfulness of yuck development as I go forward….

    This is not license for laziness – like, oh this mess is perfect so I don’t have to deal with it…. It’s active, difficult and brave to drop preferences and deal with reality. Hats off to the former track star turned Mom or ultra runner turned work horse to look in the mirror or stop after a 20 minute jog and say yup that flab that hyperventilation, that’s perfect, it’s ok, I can do this training over the coming months with kindness and patience…. Rather than dammit I’m supposed to be somewhere else feel somehow else despite what reality deems.

    Take the want/hope and resistance/fear out of certain outcomes and you have perfection all the time. Recognizing that things are perfect as they are because they’ve followed laws of physics, karma, or the planet – not our fleeting personal demands – means we can start our journey toward some vision from exactly where we are, with great sanity and confidence.

    • Hey, great examples and metaphors about not adding “judgment” to our work! Those labels just become one other thing to deal with…. and those labels aren’t really helpful anyway! Thanks, Jen! 🙂

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