Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. – Oscar Wilde
In our always on-the-go, hyper-competitive society, perfection conforming to an ideal that is always beyond our grasp is something we are told we should strive for. Of course, there is definitely a sense of fulfillment that we get from working as hard and seeing the fruits of our labor blossom.
Still, the societal mandate that perfection is what we are made for is perhaps in some way connected to the market principle at the heart of our economy– that ever-increasing productivity and efficiency is a natural effect of market forces.
But since we are people, not machines, we know that perfection is an illusion. And I’m convinced that perfectionism is what drives our dissatisfaction with ourselves and other people.
Learning to love imperfection
Paying closer attention to ours and others’ imperfections, and then learning to appreciate them, I think, makes forgiveness and inner peace something much more easily attainable.
The theologian St. Augustine once said, “This is the very perfection of man, to find out his own imperfections.” In other words, we as humans, are endowed with an incredible power to detect our imperfections, and in doing so, we discover what it means to be human.
In terms of improving our relationships with others, learning to love imperfection is an indispensable attitude. Let’s take your spouse or significant other. When you first met him or her, the feeling of “falling in love” probably resulted from you holding an idealized version of your partner in your head.
Once you got to know each other better, the feeling may have dissipated as you became more aware of the fact that your partner did not meet the idealized version of him or her that you had created. Many couples will begin to resent each other because their respective partners don’t meet this self-constructed ideal.
So few people realize that this can be easily avoided by getting to know your partner divorced from these ideals of perfection that we internalize. Instead of demanding perfection from your partner, whether implicitly or explicitly, understanding their flaws and embracing them can go a long way in making your relationship stronger.
Learning to love the imperfect you
The same goes with your relationship with yourself. The greatest source of internal strife is when we construct an image of ourselves as we should be, and then, failing to meet this image, we punish ourselves with our disappointment.
For example, your “ideal you” is someone who holds fast to your diet, exercises daily, always gets to work on time, and never makes a mistake at work. Of course, we will always falter when pursuing goals, and those who take perfection too seriously will tell themselves, “I ate too much today, I didn’t make time for exercise this week, I must be a complete failure, so there’s no point in making any goals since I’ll always fail.”
This mindset of perfection, instead of helping us improve and reach our goals, has the paradoxical effect of making us give up.
Goal-setting only works when we make room for mistakes and we take the time to acknowledge what we did do right. So next time you fall short of a goal, don’t harp on what went wrong.
Tell yourself, “Ok, so I didn’t adhere to my strict diet, but at least I ate more vegetables that I ever have. I’ve made some progress and I’m proud of it.” This acknowledgement of imperfection and positive affirmation of accomplishment encourages you to make further goals. As noted in a previous article, when we try too hard, we end up falling short.
That isn’t to say, of course, that we embrace all our weaknesses at the expense of not seeking to improve ourselves. It just means that we should take a different, more forgiving approach to our flaws and weaknesses so that we come to a better, more realistic understanding of where we are and where we hope to be.
As Mahatma Gandhi once so cogently put it: “My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents, and I lay them both at His feet.”