the perfectionism lie.

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Back in college, as a prerequisite to graduating, we were required to spend several hours in the Career Center.  There were a variety of sessions we had to sit through, most of which revolved around how to write a cover letter and resume as well as job search strategies and networking.  In one session on interview skills, our Career Counselor told us that a good way to answer the popular “greatest weakness” question is to say that you are a perfectionist.*

“Weakness?”, I thought. “That’s my greatest strength!”.  Or so I thought.

I certainly did pride myself on being a perfectionist.  It was simply how I was raised.  In my household growing up, anything less than perfection in terms of schoolwork, job performance or behavior simply was not tolerated.  Mistakes were not just frowned upon, but unacceptable.  As I got older and moved away to college, I certainly internalized this, striving for 100% excellence in everything.

I was able to balance multiple internships, side work, and DJing/news-casting at the local radio station all while maintaining a very high GPA.  Perfectly executing every task in front of me, I thought, was the path to success and happiness.  However, I quickly found out that aiming for perfectionism is not only destructive but also counter-intuitive in the long run.  Why?

Perfection doesn’t exist.

Sure, you can put on the facade of perfection and you can certainly obsess over the most minute of details in every single project you ever work on.  But you won’t ever be perfect.  Your work won’t ever be perfect.

Eventually, you will start to realize this, but, like an addict, you will continue to reach for that thing that is just beyond your grasp.  And then procrastination, burn-out, stress and a crippling fear of failure or rejection (all common side-effects of perfectionism), will start to take over.

As I started dealing with those perfection related problems, I realized that chasing after such an unattainable goal was not only making me miserable, it was killing me.

The truth is, deep-down, I knew that perfectionism was a lie.  I never, ever held any other person to the standard I held for myself.  I loved seeing my friends and colleagues reach their goals and gain new skills and when they stumbled, I told them how these mistakes were simply life-lessons that would help them do better in the future.  Physician, heal thyself.

I’m still learning that being less than perfect is just fine.  In my more stressfed moments, many times on nights when my insomnia relentlessly keeps my awake, I have to remind myself  that life will continue to have ups-and-downs, failures, successes and setbacks. And that’s OK.

To being super human, not superhuman,

*By the way, this was and still is horrible interview advise.  Telling an entire group of students to give the same, canned, played-out answer to a common interview question is ridiculous.  Seriously, don’t use this in your next job interview.

2 thoughts on “the perfectionism lie.

  1. Bad ass post CP!!! Straight-up DOPE!!!!

    Yeah, perfectionism can be crippling but its cycle is perpetual. The strive for it exists in all standards that we set for ourselves. There’s really no way around it outside of excepting I’d say a “lesser” version of what “perfectionism” entails.

    So, like you said…the 100% is futile!!! You’ll never attain it b/c its impossible. But if I switch my perspective and redefine what my acceptable level of “perfectionism” is, then I remove the pressure, bag the stress, and fervently set forth to reach goals on my terms. “Perfectionism” as we know it today is nothing more than self-motivation by fear of failure. By switching perspective, failure doesn’t exist after “perfectionism” has been redefined…it becomes nothing more than a speed-bump along the road to fulfilling your destiny.

    This is how I have coped with “perfectionism,” and in doing so I have found a new love and joy in the “process” of trying to exercise it as I live each day. It’s all about the “process”…gotta love it CP!!! Good, bad, or indifferent it shapes you into a much stronger individual each time you are challenged. Think about it, the Grind is inevitable when zen seeking. You and I both know that intuitively.

    If I had a bible verse depicting what “perfectionism” truly is it’d be from Ecclesiastes 1:14 –
    “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and like grasping after the wind.”

    I don’t know, this post made me think about some shit CP. Just thought I’d share it with you. You’re AWESOME!!!


    • Thanks so much DC!

      There’s so much more I could have written on this topic as it’s played a huge role in my upbringing, my career path and simply growing as a person in this weird experiment called “life”.

      You hit the nail on the head about redefining ‘perfectionism’ and setting goals on your own terms. In fact, I think after one realizes how chasing that “high” has negatively affected them, this is probably the best rehab for that addiction.

      I really dig that Ecclesiastes verse. In Buddhism there is this concept of the “Middle Path”, essentially avoiding living in the extremes and instead walking a path between them (avoiding both hedonism and asceticism, for example).

      When I get too far on one end of that spectrum or the other (“I’M GOING TO SPEND EVERY WAKING HOUR PRACTICING CODING” or “I’M GOING TO PLAY VIDEO GAMES FOR THE NEXT 16 HOURS”), I try to remind myself that neither perfectionism nor complete indifference is helpful on my journey.

      Thanks for the comment and your great insight!

Leave a Reply