I work to be a perfect writer, a perfect friend, a perfect programmer, a perfect son and brother, a perfect motorcycle rider, and a perfect violinist. I also want to have perfect discipline, be perfect at picking where to focus my energy, and be perfect at things I don't even know how to do, like painting. At the same time, I realize that I will never be perfect at any of these things, even the ones I'm fairly good at. Some I will never be better than terrible at.
I also know that if the path to perfection were symbolized by a yardstick, I wouldn't be more than an inch or two from the start at even my best skills. That's not false modesty-- it's an acknowledgment of the impossibility of actually reaching perfection. It's so far out of reach that even excellence is very far away from it.
If there's no chance of ever reaching perfection, whats the point of striving for it? Goals can be many things-- they can motivate, but they can just as easily demoralize if you're not deliberate in how you use them. I think of goals as a guiding light, drawing me in the right direction.
If the journey is more important than the destination, then making sure one's journey is on the right path is all the more important. Having an impossible goal like perfection not only keeps you on the right path, but it focuses you on the journey. You can't look for shortcuts, arguing that the ends will justify the means, because there is no end. Instead, you see every decision in the harsh light of perfection, and are nudged towards the best path. Being imperfect, I make many mistakes and accidentally get sidetracked, but even so I move slowly in the right direction.
Having an impossible goal like perfection also creates a sense of urgency. Like the tortoise and the hare, having a goal that you think is easy affords you time to slack off. When you know that you'll never actually reach your goal, though, you are compelled to spend all of your effort moving towards it. A day that I don't spend marching towards perfection is a day that I can never make up.
The most efficient way to cover a lot of distance on foot isn't by sprinting, but rather by alternating running and walking. In the same way, dedicating yourself to the pursuit of perfection doesn't mean that you're wearing yourself out. Instead, you strive for perfect balance-- to push yourself when you have more to give, to rejuvenate yourself when you need it, to produce output when you can, and to take in new experiences and information when you need them. Pursuing any long term goal, especially a lifelong unattainable one, requires that sort of balance.
This long time horizon also encourages and necessitates the creation of many powerful habits. It teaches the habit of self-forgiveness. Beating yourself up only serves to slow your progress and hold yourself back. Instead you must find that balance of learning from your mistakes and giving yourself permission to try again with confidence. On the path you also learn to see the truth, especially the truth about yourself, slightly more clearly. Action taken on false information moves you away from the path, so your motivation to see accurately overrides the natural inclination to deceive ourselves with a rose-tinted self image. Also contributing to a clearer picture is the idea that personal weakness isn't a permanent source of shame, but a climbable mountain on the path to perfection.
In the pursuit of perfection, there's no room to compare yourself against others. No one is perfect, so setting their level as your goal does nothing but erect an impassable wall where they stand on the path. Instead, when you seek perfection, you compare yourself to only one person: the person you were yesterday. If you are better than he was, and sufficiently so, then you spent a day walking the path, and are maximizing your potential. If you are the same or worse than the person you were yesterday, you have clipped a tiny bit from your potential, and should be even more motivated to proceed forward smartly and quickly.
I won't ever be perfect at anything I attempt, let alone everything, and neither will you. That shouldn't stop us from trying, though. By walking the path to perfection we allow ourselves to live good lives, to be the best people we can be, to reach as much of our potential as we can, and to be encumbered with the fewest regrets. That's a path worth taking.
Photo is of Starry Night, which is one of my favorite paintings. I made a wall sized version out of sticky notes at my old house. It didn't come out as well as Van Gogh's.
Hey Tyran , I commend you for seeking perfection however /i would like to pose a question to you . Dont you think it is better to seek something healthy . For instance a perfect writer does not exist.
Being a perfect writer could mean your tense is correct , you use the correct words ... what would something perfetc look like ?
Rather a healthy writer could be able to make mistakes and add a bit of personality to it . Where I feel a a perfect writer would have no apersonality . For instance the style that is Tyran might use great expletives but the style that is john might use great punctuation . However if everyone had to right perfect how boring would it be . we would all use the correct punctuation , the correct tense .nah im more for a healthy writer . Someone with personality and character . You telling me you do the k53 everytime you stop on your motor bike (that is the ten point check ? ) ... really ?
I remember hearing once that perfectionism is excatly what causes procrastination.
I won't do that today because notall the conditions are just right and I can't make the best I could. This logical fallacy also stops me from ever getting better at doing something therefore makes me stay the same or get worse then I could be.
Expierience is the best teacher and I bow before you.
"when you seek perfection, you compare yourself to only one person: the person you were yesterday." Great quote. This would be cool to morph into a TED talk.
I recently read John Wooden's book (The great basketball coach that won 10 NCAA titles in 12 years). He has a chart called "Pyramid of Success". The principles are basic, but if practiced, lead to success.
Warning: history teaches us that (religous) perfectionism is both very productive, and very dangerous. As well as being the basis for some significant (religous) achievments, it has been the basis for some significant abuses/cults, based on the observed fact that people feel like miserable failures, and become very vulnerable, when they do everything right and fail to achieve perfection/success
Just want to say i enjoy your observations, of how you see things. I'm in my early sixties (female) but you're an inspiration and gives me pause to think of what you are sharing. I am going to work on that road to "perfection , not so much to perfect but to go on that trail and see how i fare.
I would love to have you read "Loving What Is", by Byron Katie, and share your thoughts on how the process discussed in the book might fit nicely with the ideas you present in this post. Always enjoy hearing your views....
When I first saw the reference to perfection I thought I'd switch off (every stress in my life seems to come down to perfectionism). Having read the full post I completely agree (I use the phrase personal best but not as catchy)!
When I stop comparing my achievements with others to define perfection/best and compare me to me (better than yesterday) then things get more balanced. Still striving but less stress.
In the past I have looked at people around me (perfect mother, perfect partner, perfect body, perfect diet etc etc) and thought I could be all of these things. I didn't stop to notice that not one person excels in all areas. I just felt like I was always failing.
I now strive for personal best in the areas that matter to me and those impacted around me. I.e. perfect body (society standard) would be zero fat, completely toned, super cardio, manicured to perfection but to be honest when looking at my standard (personal best) I'm aiming to be fit (enough), healthy and slightly toned (any more would mean time in the gym would negatively impact family life).
Thanks for the post :)
Eight years ago, I lived in a house that we called Project Hollywood. A group of the four best pickup artists in the world-- and me-- rented out Dean Martin's old house on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles. This was a big deal in the pickup community, and it spawned clones all over the world. One such copycat was Project San Francisco, six hours away from LA. Mystery and I drove up there one day to check it out.
We were both immediately stunned with how well Project San Francisco was run. We were shown to our guest beds, given guest sets of keys, and guest towels. The whole house was clean and well organized. Our house, on the other hand, was chaotic. It was usually a mess and no one really took responsibility for anything beyond their own bedrooms. Generally it was only clean if someone had a girl coming over that he wanted to impress-- and then he cleaned it himself.
The tour through the house continued, and I commented on how clean everything was. In response, I heard the magic words: "Yeah, we try to keep it a nine out of ten at all times".
What an idea! Who would ever admit that they tried to complete something only to ninety percent? Eight years later, I'm still in love with the idea of nine out of ten.
I've been thinking a lot about balance lately. I keep catching myself treating it like a state, a way that things can be: "Everything is in balance." It's an alluring fantasy, especially when I'm stressed because I can look forward to some future where I've done all the work and things are in balance and the stress is all gone.
Except in the real, dynamic world, balance doesn't work that way. Balance is not a state of being. Balance is an activity. When you walk on a tightrope, you are never balanced; you are always balancing.
Maybe this seems obvious to you, intellectually, like saying "life's a journey, not a destination." But I always catch myself treating balance like it's a state, and I bet you do, too.
What motivates your actions? When something seems out of balance, and you are working to change it, is your motivation the underlying itch of "Just this last thing..."? I do this all the time. At work I'll see a situation that is on fire and I'll start working to put that fire out. Nothing wrong with that. But if I meditate a little bit to really see my underlying feelings, I see impatience, aggravation, and a sense of reaching, stretching out and grasping at some imaginary future where this fire is out and I can finally rest. Deep down there's a part of me that is looking forward to everything being balanced so I can take a deep breath and exhale and all the tension will leave my body and I'll finally be at peace.