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The End of Perfection

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Jul 15 2014
Bill Apablasa

If you’re part of the special education community, you probably cringe at the word perfection, almost as much as the word normal. That’s because they’re ill-defined, insensitive and arbitrary benchmarks on how to measure performance and achievement.

And when it comes to labels, most of us run from them every chance we get.

At least sometimes.

Here’s the thing about labels. Some are easier to wear than others.

Take perfectionism for example.

I suspect many of us secretly wear perfectionism like a badge of honor. It’s like being a workaholic. We know it’s not good for us, but we don’t mind casually throwing it into a sentence when we describe ourselves.

Perfectionism is our way of saying we won’t settle for less, that we’re focused, determined, and always striving for excellence. It’s something our grandpa might be proud of—you know, like picking yourself up from the bootstraps and making something out of yourself.

But, down deep, we all know that perfection isn’t about excellence, or striving to be our best. It’s about chasing an artificial ideal of who we think we should be, not to mention who those around us think we should be.  And there’s nothing noble about it. In fact, perfectionism is not just a moving target we’ll never hit, but a trap that leads to despair and unhappiness.

I’ll go so far as to say that perfectionism is one of the great tyrants of our time, and we need to fight it with everything we’ve got. And if you think I’m cueing up the melodramatic music, I am.

It’s that dangerous.

And while intellectually we know there is no such thing as being perfect, it doesn’t stop us from spending an awful lot of time and energy trying not to make mistakes, or trying to be everything to everyone, or keeping up the illusion that everything is just fine in our world.

If we weren’t perfectionists, why would we beat ourselves up when we fail to live up to the expectations of those around us, or even worse, ourselves.

Yes, my friends, I hate to admit it, but we are a nation of secret (and not-so secret) perfectionists, demanding more from ourselves, our children, and our employees everyday.

And I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time to end the madness—to leap from our chairs, go to the window and shout out for the whole world to hear: “I am not perfect! I am deeply and profoundly flawed!”

Let today be the end of our unhealthy need to live, look, and act perfectly. Let today be the day when “good enough” is okay.
And should you have your doubts, and I suspect there will be those who will, you might consider the toll perfectionism can take on our lives.

Let’s examine the evidence:

  • Being perfect inherently means there is no room for error, which keeps us on familiar roads, which virtually destroys the inventiveness, playfulness, and creativity that is the hallmark of a productive and rich life.
  • Being perfect often comes with a deep-seeded need to be accepted by everyone, which generally happens when we start conforming to what others want, which turns us into something we’re not, and becomes the pathway to an inauthentic life.
  • Being perfect can also lead us to avoiding talking about personal fears, insecurities and disappointments, which leads to presenting an even more artificial view of ourselves to the world.
  • Being perfect often means we don’t want to be blamed or judged for anything, which leads us to play it safe with our choices, thus limiting the options we will have at our disposal for real growth. 
  • Being perfect goes hand in hand with a fear of failure, which can lead to procrastination and a lack of productivity in our life. 
  • Being perfect turns us into control freaks, which leads to obsessing over minutiae, which leads to becoming mean-spirited grumps that no one wants to be around.
  • Being perfect says we won’t be happy until we (or those around us) reach some arbitrary point in life. It forces us to live with other people’s ideals, and standards for success and greatness.

In other words, perfectionism keeps us from not only happiness, but also our own unique greatness. It does nothing to enhance life. It controls us, and makes us live according to other people’s truths, keeping us locked in a tiny little box with very little light.

And there is only one solution: It’s time to break out of the box and say good-bye to perfection, and hello to the enlightening and empowering world of imperfection.

And let’s be clear about one thing. We’re not resigning, giving in, or settling for less, or giving ourselves excuses to go to work with curlers on, or gobs of spinach between our teeth. We can still strive for excellence at every turn, vowing always to give our best effort.

But, we can also celebrate our imperfections. We can use them to explore our talents, find our joys, and discover our true selves.

We can use our imperfections to become stronger where it matters most—as our most human, vulnerable and authentic self.
We can use our imperfections to become real.

And it is in our realness and authenticity where we will truly connect as parents, educators and therapists who will make a difference in the lives of our children and students.

To honor the imperfections of another, we must recognize our own.

A toast to being flawed!

Bill Apablasa is a writer, filmmaker, blogger, creative director and proud evangelist for WebWise Therapy Services and their mission to help others overcome challenges…realize potential…and pursue an inspired life.