“Healthy striving is self-focused: ‘How can I improve?’ Perfectionism is other-focused: ‘What will they think?’ – Brené Brown
The ideal of perfectionism is a subject that is interwoven with the notions of failure and making mistakes. The image of perfection oscillates between trying your very best at something for reasons related to high standards, self-validation, and purpose to crippling fear, avoidance of judgment, and stress. The former is healthy; the latter, on the other hand, could harm more than it benefits. Typically all-or-nothing or black or white thinking accompanies the concept of perfectionism. In the absence of awareness, the ego can use the all-or-nothing mentality against the individual as a means to self-sabotage. For example, the ego can cause harm by triggering fear that what is done is not enough, it can trigger stress by creating unrealistic expectations, and it can damage relationships by disrupting balance with other social spheres. The ego can hold the perfectionist hostage against unrealistic expectations.
Perfectionism in the form of striving for quality is encouraged insofar it is self-directed or inwardly focused versus others-directed or outwardly concerned. Having high standards and vision are good things. However, if the target goal is approached with worry over all the different scenarios of possible failure, with concern for others’ judgement, and lastly fear of feeling shame and guilt as a result, then seeking others’ approval overshadows, if not completely replaces, the idea of competing against and improving upon the person you were yesterday. Failure is good; failure makes us better. Nobody is born knowing everything. Unlike foals we are not born able to walk; we must learn that and the way we achieve walking is by falling and trying again. Perseverance is key in managing failure and mistakes. Furthermore, seeking perfection has the potential to delay finishing projects or never feeling satisfied with the outcome. Time is finite; time will run out in the interim of pursuing perfection. Hence, acquiring and sustaining happiness or worthiness is problematic, when the focus is outward perfectionism.
Perfection does not exist nor is it attainable as an end, rather it is a means or an idea that assists ongoing progress and goal-setting. Perfection can inspire. However, there is always room for improvement; ongoing improvement is endless, which is why perfection is elusive. Again, balance is key in our pursuits. Let us lower our tolerance to stress and pressure and enable our enthusiasm and creativity to naturally take-off.