I'm not sure exactly what causes it. Maybe it's the exponential rise in options that all of us have in nearly every aspect of life. Maybe it's the simplification of entertainment and the desire for a fairy-tale ending. Or maybe it's something else I can't think of.
We are way too focused on perfection. We want to do things at the perfect time, find the perfect job, and meet the perfect person.
Is the result that everything becomes perfect in our life? No, it's that we fail to pull the trigger, often keeping ourselves further from perfection than we'd otherwise be.
A while ago I was talking with one of my aunts and she made an offhand comment that these days it seems like everyone is trying to date someone perfect. When she was dating, she said, people were trying to find a good person and build a good relationship with them.
When people talk to me about wanting to travel, very often they're trying to find the perfect day to leave, a day on which everything domestically will be wrapped up, and there will be no downsides to uprooting their lives and leaving. Of course, that day never comes for anyone.
In myself I see this tendency most strongly in business. When I start a new project I'm full of excitement, but as soon as I find a flaw in it part of my brain pushes me to move on to a different project, one where I haven't found any flaws yet.
We often seek perfection as a means to avoid hard work. If I'm dating someone who is perfect, I don't have to work hard on the relationship. If you find that perfect date to leave, you don't need to deal with loose ends. The perfect business doesn't require me to work through messy problems that may not have clean solutions.
It's great when things do come easily, but counting on it for your life is not a good strategy.
We also don't like doing the hard work of choosing between imperfect options. Choosing something perfect is very easy because it comes with no downsides. How do you decide when a partner or business idea is good enough to deserve all of your focus? When is it "settling" and when is it making a savvy decision? It's not usually obvious.
This is where having strong personal standards comes in. When you know what you want, what you actually want, you can make these decisions and be comfortable with them. If you're merely conforming to a vague set of society's expectations, it's very difficult to make these decisions.
Through experience I know what I want in a girlfriend. Min is imperfect as I am, but she is all the things that are important to me in a partner. Once I knew her well enough to realize that, I was happy to call her my girlfriend.
Same with business. CruiseSheet isn't a perfect business, but it leverages my skills well, is a good market, and is something I'm interested in. Good enough. Same with my coaching program.
If I settled for just any business and girlfriend, I'd be inviting many problems into my life and would probably be fairly miserable. If I would only accept perfection I'd have no money and no girlfriend. The key is to know which factors matter to you and which don't, and to stop searching and start acting once you find a match for those things which are important to you.
Photo is from Vienna. My family came to visit in Budapest for a week and we took a day trip by train to Vienna. Having my family travel with me was an amazing experience and went even better than I expected. Can't wait to do it again.
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Perfectionism is the "make everything better" mindset turned pathological. It's wonderful not to settle, it's great to try and make everything better, but the problem occurs when we're unable to enjoy the journey.
Perfectionism is the mindset of "never good enough," it's focusing solely on the destination while ignoring the present beauty. Yes, it's good to acknowledge that it can always be better, because that's what gets us moving and gives us direction, but the point is to enjoy every step of the way.
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.
It's like I'm not in a cafe any more, but rather receiving a diplomatic corps from a nation I'm at war with. The woman has a "stern and serious fucking business" look on her face, and another waitress is standing alongside her right flank with arms crossed.
I shake my head and try to wave them off, doing the universal "I'm on the phone" gesture, holding up a thumb and pinky finger.
She starts speaking anyways. She's loud and insistent.
"Hold on, Marcus."
I take my headset off. "Yes?"