When I was in high school, a persistent comment about my academic performance is that I was a perfectionist. Back then, I couldn’t figure out whether or not this was a positive trait.
Now that I am older, I see perfectionism as a series of unrealistic projections of how I wish I could do things when my performance is being assessed. If it were possible to be perfect, I would have gotten tons of awards to display. The reality is that I don’t have a trophy case because I never really needed one.
That doesn’t mean that letting go of perfectionism means abandoning any aspirations of doing a good job. When I have gotten a less than satisfactory grade or a piece of writing I wrote was rejected, the outcome did not leave me feeling good. The result was that I developed the desire to do better. As skills improve, the drive to improve continues unabated, but I do recommend taking time to give yourself a pat on the back and congratulate yourself on what you have accomplished.
We as productive members of society find the areas that we are good at, but that doesn’t mean that sticking to one particular skill set is the way to go. Learning how to cook without being a professional chef is a really useful skill. So is knowing how to drive a car. Knowing how to be an effective public speaker is another good skill to have. That doesn’t mean that have those skills make us perfect.
Think about it for a minute. If all your wishes came true, what would a perfect version of yourself look like? If you could create a perfect society, what would it look like? How about a perfect world? Yes, wish lists are a part of life, but not all wishes come true.
The issue at hand, really, is how to live a life that is satisfying and satisfactory. There is no perfect formula that will lead to a perfect life. Elements in the equation that we possess and cultivate can lead to exemplary lives to live, but there is no foolproof way to circumvent sorrow or tragedy.
I know that as a perfectionist, I’ve struggled with the idea that life can be filled with both joy and sadness and found out that shutting out the possibility of joy when tragedy strikes is not a wise permanent solution. We as human beings are invited to experience the full spectrum of naturally induced emotions that life has to offer. These emotions, after all, make us human and help us to understand each other. At least, I hope so.
I also believe that perfectionism creates an artificial utopia of what would be truly ideal. Trying to attain perfection can actually cause more harm than good, especially when the ideal of perfection makes a person obsess over tiny details instead of looking at the bigger picture. Perfectionism distorts our ideals, whether those ideals affect the individual or a society or even a global vision of how the world should be like. Ideologies that certain people wanted to spread in the 20th century, notably Nazism and the kind of ideology that was adopted by the Soviet Union, leave behind lessons that show that trespassing on human life and dignity is not the way to achieve a perfect society. The way that ISIS deals with innocent people proves that the lessons of the previous century have not been learned well enough.
Working towards the greater good is something I have been mulling over in recent weeks. At Georgetown University, I had picked up on the Latin exhortation to produce deeds that fall under the “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam” category, which means, according to my interpretation, that I need to do things that benefit other people besides myself. At the graduation ceremony earlier this month, us graduates were encouraged to live lives of service. While I discourage perfectionism, creating good for many people is something that is within the realm of possibility. Our actions can make the day better for one person. Other actions we do can be of great benefit to larger groups of people.
I know I am not perfect, which, at this point, is an OK thing for me live with, but I am a work in progress.