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Also Perfection

May 14, 2017

Last week I published a blog called Perfection is an Illusion.  It dealt with perfection of design during evolution.  I only realized afterwards that the title could equally well apply to being a perfectionist.  Some people do strive for perfection.  They seem to believe that the world will change when they achieve perfection.  When they reach it, people will admire them, people will celebrate their achievement, people will finally apprectiate them.

Just before I retired, I attended a presentation by a psychologist who specialized in perfectionism.  Perhaps you call tell from the suffix?  Perfectionism is an ideology just like communism and capitalism are ideologies.  Its a system based on a single idea.  He gave us many stories during this presentation, all taken from autobiographies.  One that was particularly striking to me was about a top-tier ballet dancer who said that she never enjoyed dancing.  No matter how well she was dancing, she always believed that she could do better.  His message was that by striving for perfection, you could waste your life chasing a dream or an illusion.

This was of great interest to me because I knew I had many characteristics of a perfectionist.  Perhaps I really was one.  My job at the time was software development, a job that I found to be very rewarding.  The typical phases were design, construction, and testing.  I did strive for excellence in the product.  However, one of my favorite sayings was:  “sometimes adequate is the best we can do”.  By that I meant that software developers typically work on many projects at the same time, and that completing these projects was more important than making them perfect.  Each one only had to be adequate in design before being released.

Striving for perfection may be a sign of false beliefs.  You have to realize that you are admired for your many positive qualities already.  Do not other people think of you as reliable, honest, considerate, consistent, and punctual?  You might have to ask them to find out what they think.  At least, don’t rely on your own idea of what they think.

People who are perfectionists have a powerful need for validation by other people.  This is a normal need.  It’s something we all have.  You may have to find your own validation instead of imagining what others think of you.  Do you find that you are highly critical of yourself and others?  Perhaps you also believe that others are just as critical of you?  That’s probably not true.  Perfectionism is an extreme.  Extremes of any sort are not good.  The opposite of perfectionism is another extreme, also not a good thing, and nothing to admire.  You need to find a balance between extremes, one that allows you to enjoy life at the same time.


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