Perfect is for amateurs. Happy people don’t worry about perfection–in themselves, in those they love, in what they experience, in what they acquire. I have spent way too much of my life being this kind of beginner though. And you probably are doing more of it than you realize.
The expectation that things have to be perfect before we can just enjoy them has deep roots in the way a lot of us were raised. It may have started as an overly critical parent, but more likely, it came from people who clearly telegraphed that they were on your side–and just trying to help you become the best person you could be. It’s important to strive for improvement. That’s an essential piece of living a good life. But using feedback to do even better than what you did the last time is different than deciding you’re inadequate because what you did the first time wasn’t 100% perfect.
A lot of what we learn growing up becomes outdated or was just plain wrong to begin with. Our ideas about being perfect are in that category. My entire family (of nine) considered Mom the font of all knowledge when it came to facts. We would bring the interesting rocks we found in the wild places to her for identification. In particular, I relied on her for the names of flowers or weeds. All I needed was to remember what she’d said, and I’d be right.
Not really. I’ve had the chance to dig into gardening on my own for decades now and one of the most important lessons I’ve learned was “Mom was not always right.”
I wish I’d learned that before she died though. Our mutual dance of expecting ourselves–and each other–to be perfect ruined a lot of good times we could have had together. Instead of savoring the strong women we were, we kept poking at our own and each other’s imperfections. This particular dance didn’t even involve a lot of words about the situation. The expectation of perfection was a given.
Being perfect is a bad trip. It’s like flying to Hawaii and then sitting in the closet of the condo the whole time you’re there, dwelling on how dark it is. Expecting other people to be perfect is not good for them, to be sure, but it’s even harder on your own good time. Yes, sometimes a person uses the argument “I can never do anything right in your eyes” to mask controlling behavior of his/her own that sabotages a relationship. But if you are expecting perfection from that person (and most likely yourself in the bargain), there’s some painful truth in the lament.
Seeking perfection ruins your enjoyment of what’s already there. Expecting it in others sends a message that they are not good enough unless they improve. Every time you find them less than what you think they should be, the chance to enjoy each other’s company erodes. That’s a highway to loneliness over the long haul.
When you do it with your kids, you set them up for the same dissatisfied life. If you insist that every detail of what they’ve done be perfect, you teach them that as adults, they must take that same “high road.” And thus, this most negative of all behaviors gets passed on, often with few words and even less scrutiny.
Perfection is not possible. Many of us can accept this truth rationally. Some of us embrace it spiritually. But a lot of us add, “but I’m going to doing everything I can to be perfect anyway.” That caveat sets everything you experience up as “not good enough.” Because you’ve decided you’ve been specially annointed to be perfect, you must always get it all right and everyone you interact must be perfect as well.
You’re telling yourself you don’t do that, right? You may want to take a deeper look. Most of the judgements we pass are attempts to make our own world perfect. When you take issue with what someone said, did you do it because the comment was really that unbearable? Or did you decide that the person “should” be treating you in a more perfect way?
None of us are going to get it all right. And we certainly aren’t going to get it all right all the time. Letting go of that expectation can be a massive stress reducer. It is also one of the best ways you’ll find to get closer to those you love emotionally.
There will be differences that still need to be addressed. That’s part of living with imperfection. But your decision about whether to ask for a change in someone else or not needs to be based on whether the current situation is good enough, not on whether it’s “perfect.”