21 Nov Strive for Success NOT Perfection
I used to be a person that strived for “perfection”. People would call me a “perfectionist”.
You have probably read a million quotes or sayings about there being no such thing as “perfection”. You have probably heard references to perfectionism as being illusionary or even impossible to attain.
So how is it that so many of us can relate to being a “perfectionist” or know someone who fits that label so well? When most of us strive for perfection, it seems that in our heads we have a particular set of conditions around the outcome that need to be met before we feel satisfied.
Yes of course, it is illusionary because the conditions are usually “in our heads”, so not obvious to others. The conditions also set by the mind may also have very little to do with the success of the outcome. It seems to me too, that when we use the word, “perfectionist” to describe a person, it usually describes the person that puts a lot of attention to detail in one or all aspects of their lives.
I suppose attention to detail is great, if you are doing something you love or your job depends on it. It may be that your focused attention has “put you in the zone” or puts you “in the now” as Eckhart Tolle teaches or “makes you mindful”, which is a more psychological take on spiritual teachings.
So how does striving for perfection lead to unhappiness?
I suppose it only becomes a problem when that pursuit toward perfection becomes an end in itself.
When perfection is what you strive, with no notion of what constitutes a “successful outcome”, then you are serving your mind. What happens here is the outcome has been reached but not to the standards set by one’s mind, so that it becomes irrespective of the desired outcome. So very often the person we call a “Perfectionist” is the one that has achieved a really good outcome but is still not happy. This is the mindset that doesn’t serve us in the pursuit of happiness and one; I gave up on a long time ago.
An example here is- me; many years ago. I like to save time and found being organised helped achieve this end. Being organised meant having everything in its place and the house clean, which I did in small lots dictated by need. I thought it would then save the need to forfeit an entire day to the cleaning of the house. If one item was out of place then it wasn’t perfect. After a while I realised that the things that were instigated to free me of the need to use “a whole day “ to clean- became “a whole day”, “every day” to execute in themselves- GREAT OUTCOME! .
Similarly, an example my Auntie once gave me, which I’ll never forget was as follows: She was an extremely house proud, and fastidious Greek lady. Her home was her pride and joy. She strived for perfection in her house as some sort of reflection on her as a good home keeper. She scrubbed her floor tiles regularly so at all times her reflection could be seen in them. One day she felt very weary and tired and caught a reflection of this half dead woman that, as she puts it ‘spoke back to her’. It said, “Are you stupid? You will die here but your tiles will be shining clean. By the time ‘the Wake’ happens your place will be a mess and people will say, gee that lady was a lazy sod”- The last comment referred to the fact that she had 3 boys and a husband who contributed no effort toward keeping the house clean and she wondered whether it even dawned on them that a house needed to be cleaned. She realised that her work served a false purpose.
After that day, she stopped serving her mind.
This mindset comes out in different areas of our lives, be it housework, work, and even recreation. Different aspects of our lives can reflect this trait too, like our general organisation- which can be taken far beyond practical purposes.
Sometimes this mindset arises when we are to instigate something new too, like exercise or healthy eating for example, and the mind says, “We’ll if I can only do it on Sunday and Tuesday- then what’s the point of doing it at all?” In other words, to their mind- it needs to be instigated in a way that “is perfect” by their mind’s standard- a bit of the “all or nothing mentality”.
Being impossible to achieve is one thing- not bringing you any real happiness is my main focus. When you serve the mind, and perfectionism is an end in itself, then you are putting yourself in a trap- which is also not that easy to get out of.
BUDDHA said “The greater the emphasis on perfection, the further it recedes.” So take a leaf out of the BUDDHA’s book and
Strive for a Successful Outcome- not a Perfect One.