The Limitations of Perfection

I heard it somewhere a long time ago: “Perfection is a limitation.” It struck me at the time as a bizarre thought. I mean, I’d been taught I had to be perfect. I had to get a perfect score on my tests. I had to be the perfect daughter, the perfect student, the perfect athlete, the perfect pianist. My grandfather (who I adored) urged me, “Don’t compare yourself to the worst. Compare yourself to the best.”

And so I did.

It didn’t help that I picked a career as a writer. As a journalist, my life became about finding the perfect word to convey my meaning. I frequently found myself in copy-editing hell as I sought out errant spelling and grammar, beating myself up terribly when a story came out that I’d written or edited (or both) containing even the slightest mistake. It also didn’t help that I had a TON of Virgo in my chart!

But when I heard that sentence: “Perfection is a limitation” I finally took a long hard look at what I’d always taken for granted. And after much thought I realized, “Well, hell. Perfection is a limitation!”

It kept me in a box. It kept me from being spontaneous. It kept me from going to the store when my hair was dirty. It kept me from speaking my mind. It kept me anxious. It made me overly-critical and judgmental of both myself and others. It ate up my free time searching for errant hyphens and commas in manuscripts and repeating passages of music on the piano over and over and over until all the joy of the music had fled.

And what is truly bizarre is that the perfection I was seeking was just a story in my head that hadn’t even originated with me. I was trying to live up to external expectations. Standards of perfection set by others—my parents, my teachers, my grandfather, my bosses. Whether those were truly my standards or not, was never a consideration. I never questioned because perfection was a given. This is how you’re supposed to be.

Then I realized that ideals of perfection and standards vary. It depends where you are geographically and ethnically and what time period you’re talking about and who you’re talking with.

Holy Moses!

So, if you sometimes joke that you have a “perfection gene,” I suggest you take a look at it. I’m not endorsing sloppiness over precision. I’m not saying don’t take care in what you do and how you show up in the world. I’m just saying take a look at it. Maybe, just maybe, the perfect world means finding the balance somewhere in between.

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