The Problem With Perfection…John Page Burton

I recently visited with a client who has spent the majority of his lifetime struggling with the concept of “perfection”. For as long as he could remember, he had been admonished to do things “perfectly” and was routinely chastised or punished when he failed to achieve the level of “perfection” required of him by a series of “well meaning” role models, including his parents. Because of his skewed reality around perfection he struggled to achieve a true measure of happiness in his intimate relationship or career. Millions of us can relate to the expectations of “perfection” that have been placed on us by our parents, athletic coaches, teachers and other role models we have encountered along our journey. I know that for many years I felt like a total “loser” for not living up to the demands of perfection placed on me. That was then, this is now. Today, I strive to do my very best in every endeavor, however, I realize that for me, “perfection” rarely happens and I’m fine with that. One of the fundamental problems with our obsession for perfection is that over time it tends to create an array of personal and health challenges. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

Avoidance strategy. Many of us are using our quest for “perfection” as a means of avoiding potential rejection and therefore protecting ourselves from opening up and becoming vulnerable. For example, we have all known someone who is looking for the “perfect partner” and isn’t willing to “settle” for anyone who doesn’t measure up to the exact profile they have designed. Or how about the person who won’t go to the beach until they are in “perfect” shape. In both cases “perfection” is being conveniently used as an excuse to keep them from addressing their self doubt and fear and in both cases it is keeping them from having fun and meeting some really awesome people.

Judgment. How many times have we failed to make a connection with someone because they were not driving the “perfect” car, wearing the “perfect” clothes or living in the “perfect” zip code. Our need to pass judgment may be preventing us from meeting talented, progressive people. I know several extremely accomplished professionals who drive older model vehicles,regularly wear shorts and flip flops and live where they “feel the vibe”. You can’t possibly know anything about someone unless you have a conversation.

Health. Our quest for “perfection” can lead to a variety of health problems, including diet pill addiction, Anorexia, Skin Cancer, disfigurement from plastic surgery and an array of other health related challenges. Accepting ourselves for who we are is the first step toward optimal health. Diet and exercise are natural, proven strategies for living a longer, more enjoyable life.

Parenting. Anyone who has been subjected to the pressure stemming from parental demands of “perfection” has experiential knowledge regarding the emotional damage it can cause. As parents we want our children to do and be their best, however, the reality is that from time to time they are going to fall short of our expectations. It is up to us to teach our children that failure is an essential element of success and encourage them to embrace failure as an important part of the success process.

Self Examination. When we demand “perfection” in others it is always a good idea to examine our own motives. Why are we demanding “perfection”? Years ago, I coached high school baseball. I remember a particular parent who managed to always find something wrong with his son’s performance. One night, after a game in which his son had gone 4 for 4 and made several spectacular defensive plays, I observed the father verbally abusing his son as they walked to the car. Troubled by the incident, I called the players father and asked him why he had been so upset after the game? He explained that there had been a professional scout in attendance and that his son had gotten a late jump on an attempt to steal second base. The father went on to share that he had never been able to play college or professional baseball due to an eye injury suffered during his senior year of high school and that all he had ever wanted was for his son to have the opportunity that had alluded him. FYI… His son never played another inning of baseball after he graduated from high school. A few years ago I ran into him at a local restaurant and asked him why he had decided not to pursue college ball? (He certainly had the talent) “Coach, by the time my senior year rolled around I hated the game, no matter what I did it was never good enough for my dad and I just didn’t want to see him in the stands anymore”.

The problem with “perfection” is that it is unrealistic. I believe we should all strive to be the best at whatever we do, however, we must also realize that we are human and that we will fail and experience set backs. The pursuit of “perfection” can cause us to hold back from trying new things, meeting new people and from taking risks. Strive to be the best version of yourself and show yourself some grace.

As always, I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.

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2 thoughts on “The Problem With Perfection…John Page Burton

  1. i arrived at a balance with perfection some years ago. i work on pareto optimality now. perfection for me is at 80%. and, to a boss, i would argue that waiting to make a sales pitch at 100% you will miss the deal to the person that went in 8 weeks before after 20% of the time. EDUCATION , and experiences, is key, enabling you to make up the gap as you perform live. Thanks for posting John, much love ,Nigel

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