Perfect Is Better?
by Jennifer Paros
March on. Do not tarry. To go forward is to move toward perfection. March on, and fear not the thorns, or the sharp stones on life's path.
-- Khalil Gibran
Recently, while he was playing a computer game in which the score was dependent on cumulative rounds of problem solving, every time my son missed a round, he’d quit and start the game again. He wanted to get 100% in the end. When I protested, he said, ‘Perfect is better!” Though opposed to his approach, I was (to my dismay) drawn to his reasoning and found myself faltering to explain my position. Perfect is perfect, after all – but then, that doesn’t necessarily make it better.
In the realm of creative work “Perfectionism,” as Anne Lamott put it, “is the voice of the oppressor . . .” We all know perfection, in terms of flawlessness, is not critical for organic perfection - the beauty and power of nature and creativity. But what about the kind that seems technical and surface, achievable, exacting?
Perfect is one of the hairiest of words. In art and creation, it’s personal and objectively indefinable. If I’m looking at The Mona Lisa and declaring its perfection, you might be looking at it and seeing flaws. In the world of tests, however, there are right answers. So, if we get 100% of the questions correct, this is called a “perfect paper”.
As I watched my son insisting on his 100%, with the covert agenda of proving his worth, it was clear that the more he persisted, the unhappier he was - for he wouldn’t let himself move on. He was a slave to a thought. His notion of his value was entangled with his performance and perfectionism was his mechanism for trying to sew up the issue – and then allow himself to move on. But the more pressure he applied, the worse he did, the more it confirmed his negative thinking about himself until he finally quit the game.
Because life and creation always involve movement and growth, surface perfection – with its “Let me take a closer look” attitude – stops to assess and measure. It’s the old white glove test. Life, meanwhile, creates, develops and expresses. Perfectionism sacrifices movement for a made up concept of “better”. It’s a fear-based operation and has no necessary role in improvement, expression, success or the production of something worth sharing.
I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God's business.
-- Michael J. Fox
There is nothing perfect about the chick being born - in terms of exacting control, flawless execution and mastery - yet still, this movement of life is a part of an organic perfection.
When a chick is ready to hatch, it’s never one powerful kick, a breakthrough, and a birth; it’s always more of a process. And so it is with the having of anything we wish to experience in our lives. The chick goes after the egg many times with its beak (specifically, its egg tooth), its feet, and its weight. It learns intuitively and instinctively to harness and organize effort and intention, to carry on. It receives feedback from its actions and instinct. And as it makes its moves towards what it wants, it becomes stronger and the egg around it becomes weaker. No move is a “win” and no move a “loss”, none perfect or imperfect. It is cumulative and the process, as a whole, is the win. The movement, as a whole, is perfection.
Perfectionism is a misguided mental construct. Though it claims to be striving for something higher, it is inherently a denial of what is already perfect within. Perfectionism places an unnatural emphasis on what is measurable and assessable on the surface, while leaving the value of the whole ignored.
It’s easy to want to quit while suffering under the reign of surface perfectionism (the cause of so many abandoned projects and miserable game players). But with recognition of organic perfection, no one suffers. Life always provides a process, and if we go deeply into it, tending to the depth of the work or idea, the details fall into place. At the heart of every interest is guidance for its perfect expression.
Perfectionism looks at but not into. But actual perfection doesn’t come through the right things or the right surface arrangement of those things but through connection to and expression of what’s already so right within.