Sensational Living®

June 2005
© 2005 by Bret S. Beall


Recently, I found myself working in an environment where I was surrounded by several young women who would exclaim “perfect” whenever any project was completed. Now, I suppose that’s better than saying some things, but when the “perfect” was in response to “Yes, the mail has arrived,” it seemed like overkill.

At this same venue, I found myself meeting with the leader of the group. He was complaining about one particular employee, and I was trying to help him understand the many facets of this problem, rather than the one-dimensional interpretation to which he was clinging. I explained the solution in terms of bi-directional communication, various memory enhancers, and explicit discussion of expectation (again, bi-directional), but at one point he became frustrated with the situation and asked, “Is it too much to expect perfection?”

Yes, it is too much to expect perfection. Everyone, please learn that lesson now. Or, wait until you’ve read through this essay, and THEN learn that lesson.

Let’s make one assumption very clear: Perfection is not possible for human beings. No, I’m not talking about endorsing mediocrity, inaccuracy or incorrectness. I’m talking about not being fixated on perfection, and not being afraid to make a mistake or to fail. Everything we do requires that we do it/them well, as accurately, correctly, even as perfectly as possible. Sometimes they will be perfect, and that’s terrific. Sometimes they’ll be almost perfect, and we can learn from the imperfection. Sometimes we will utterly fail, and then we have to seek the explanation for that failure, and learn from it. Life is about learning, not about being perpetually perfect!

The drive for perfection usually begins in childhood. Parents want the best for their children, and they often have unrealistic expectations of perfection for them. Children are not perfect! By definition, children are incomplete, immature beings, learning to deal with life and all that life throws their way. Parents often forget that, and impose their own unrealistic expectations to be perfect on these young students of life. The children grow up with expectations of being perfect, which are not made manifest as adults, and when they have children, the cycle repeats. It’s a self-defeating cycle!

Of course, if it were only the parent-child relationship that was poisoned by expectations of perfection, there are enough other influences in children’s lives that the damage could be lessened. Unfortunately, children are confronted by “perfectionism” everywhere. In school, children dealing with continual pressure to perform, with the resultant grades having an impact on their lives years into the future; if parents spent more time encouraging their children to do their best at all times, and to learn from mistakes, rather than fixating on perfection, I think we actually might a generation of students who are comfortable with, rather than fearful of, the learning process.

Competitive sports are almost by definition based on perfection. Winning is based on the best performance, the highest score, the most perfect execution of a task. If a child enters into these activities by choice, and gains pleasure from them, sports can be a valuable tool for learning many important skills needed in adulthood. Unfortunately, too many times a child is forced into competition when s/he has no real interest or derives no real joy from the activity. The external force involved is usually parental pressure, peer pressure, or ill-conceived personal pressure derived from a poor understanding of the mechanics of life (ie, “I must excel at sports to succeed and to gain an advantage over my peers.”). If competing in sports calls to you, by all means compete, but do it for fun, not for some abstract, nebulous, ill-conceived need for perfection.

We also have to consider the role of the media that bombards children and adults alike with notions of perfection. Commercials implore us to buy the “perfect” bedroom suite, or to take the “perfect” vacation, or to invest in the “perfect” financial plan; the best thing to remember about these commercials is that each of us is unique, so no single suite, vacation or financial plan can be perfect for everyone … think about it!

Other media include magazines and self-help publications that provide instructions for the “perfect” recipe, or the “perfect” work out, or the “perfect” craft. Guess what? Once again, with everyone being a unique individual, it is simply impossible to find a recipe that satisfied all palates equally, or a work out regimen that help each individual achieve his/her goals, or a craft that has value to everyone. There is no perfection!

I’ve been annoyed by some recent television programs emphasizing perfection, or at least certain individuals’ perceptions of perfection. One example is a “reality” show in which individuals compete to be the head chef of their own restaurant; they are judged by a celebrity chef who is indeed extraordinarily talented, but that chef has forgotten that his food is not universally loved, and therefore, he is not perfect. He is very good, he is excellent, he is worthy of the praise that he has received, and those are the qualities that should be nurtured in the competitors. They should be taught that no matter how wonderfully they cook, there will always be someone who is not pleased by their performance. And that’s OK! Everyone’s palate is different; everyone’s palate is unique. That’s why so many restaurants can survive, to satisfy the broad range of taste.

I could go on and on with other examples of perfection that isn’t perfect. Remember, as I wrote above, if something isn’t perfect, that doesn’t mean it is bad. Quality is [almost] entirely subjective. The product actually could be perfect for some, really good for others, average for still others, and yes, actually bad for a few. It is this diversity of perspective that we must consider as we go through life.

In conclusion, the take-home message is to “be yourself.” Be the best that you can be. Please yourself. Recognize that you are an individual, unique, unlike anyone else, and what you like or what pleases you is what is important, not someone else’s imposed concept of perfection. Give your all, strive for excellence, don’t compromise on quality, and be proud of what you accomplish. If it isn’t perfect, who cares? If you have done your best, that is all that matters!

Are you ready to abandon perfection? Let me know at 773.508.9208 or email me. Just be yourself!