Home > Ideas, Personality > The Perfectionist Mantra: If I’m Not Perfect I’ll Perish

The Perfectionist Mantra: If I’m Not Perfect I’ll Perish

We’ve all heard it before: “Don’t be a perfectionist!” Often said with a sneer. Most likely because the person saying it has screwed up in one way or another and wants to divert attention to unreasonable expectation. Despite the obviously selfish motive behind the statement, I think there is some useful advice in there somewhere. If you’ve ever been (not so kindly) asked to quit being a perfectionist, then you may recall that you weren’t in the sort of mood to sit back and say “hmmm…I think you have a point.”

What drives the perfectionist? I think its simple: Mistakes are despicable. The perfectionist abhors being tainted with failings, accidents, results that are not just so, and most of all the people who have a tendency to bring about these outcomes. If a child falls off a high seat, the perfectionist parent first scolds the clumsy behavior and then asks whether she’s been hurt. Finesse is important to the perfectionist and is not just required of them, but also all who are associated in any way that reflects back on the perfectionist. This would include parents, siblings, spouse, children, friends and even institutions.

You might hold the firm opinion that a perfectionist is all bad, but I believe you wouldn’t mind being served by a perfectionist. You wouldn’t mind having your meal cooked just right at a restaurant, or having road users keep to the traffic code. We love to enjoy the fruits of the perfectionists in our world as long as they do not start pointing out our foibles – for they can do this to perfection. The perfectionist has a valuable place in society, but it comes at a price.

The perfectionist is not only hard on those around him. The recipient of the most severe bashing is himself. He lives in constant fear of going wrong. He hesitates in making decisions because he cannot afford to err. Mistakes only mean he has to answer to his harshest critic – himself. He opts out of opportunities that are unfamiliar or whose outcomes are uncertain. He resists learning new things because he cannot be perfect on the first try. He builds a temple to perfectionism and truly believes that the world would collapse around him if he were to let go of these strict standards. It’s a mental prison that sometimes ends up being a physical one.

Well here’s how I believe the perfectionist can ease up on himself. By simply realizing that imperfection equals opportunity for growth and variety. If everything and everyone were perfect, then there wouldn’t be new innovations. The world would remain the same, and you most certainly wouldn’t like to wake up to the same world day after day for a lifetime. People’s minds wouldn’t develop beyond their current state. Imperfection spurs improvement, growth, insight. Imperfection provides challenges that give us purpose in life. So in actual fact, if you’re perfect, you’ll perish. Best of all, imperfection creates balance. The fact that you’re not so good at some things makes you all the more appreciative of things that you’re good at.

Accepting weaknesses in some areas of your life allows you to be more productive in your strong points. Accepting that you are going to make mistakes and learning to forgive yourself for them allows you to coexist with other people in greater harmony since you’ll in turn be able to forgive and accept them despite their shortcomings.

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  1. March 29, 2010 at 12:19

    As hard as I was shaking my head in agreement, it is unfortunate that getting out of being a perfectionist is not easy! Especially when something of significant rides on you being PERFECT. On the other hand, how do we look at imperfection as opportunity for growth? I think therein lies the trick! This makes me feel much better, as I have often enough found myself riding the perfectionist train. Thanks!

    • kalengi
      March 29, 2010 at 13:52

      There’s a constant battle between striving for perfection and letting yourself be human. Seems you rather like not being human 🙂

  2. April 15, 2010 at 04:20

    “If everything and everyone were perfect, then there wouldn’t be new innovations.” – true because we wouldn’t be needing it not because we wouldn’t be able to make those new innovations. Because of imperfection, we need strive to improve. But if it would help convince a perfectionist to ease up, I’d tell him that he will never be perfect! So don’t be so hard on yourself. Like a certain blogger says, it’s only life.

    • kalengi
      April 15, 2010 at 04:50

      Well said! It’s also interesting that some of our best memories are of times when we’ve made great achievements in spite of imperfection. Welcome to my blog 🙂

  3. Shanga
    September 22, 2011 at 12:21

    If this piece doesn’t ease my wish to be perfect….nothing else will (It says perfect is boring & stagnant) . Very insightful & true.

    • kalengi
      September 22, 2011 at 13:39

      Hi Shanga!

      It’s so hard to live happily with imperfection when the world around you so readily punishes mistakes. So yes, I think the desire for a more exciting life might just be the motivation required to venture out of the perfectionist cocoon.

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