As human beings, many believe that we are born to strive for perfection or to perfect ourselves.
The notion that G-d creates and man perfects remains a popular theme and is expressed by many in different rituals.
The idea of perfecting ourselves is also common in popular culture, where we have come to view life’s trials and tribulations as an opportunity to come out stronger -- or as the popular song by Kelly Clarkson says, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
The challenge with working to be perfect though is that we can take it too far, where we get stuck in “analysis paralysis,” costly and time-consuming rework, and unnecessary, overly harsh criticism of ourselves and others. This is a state of being where “perfection becomes the enemy of the good” or as some say the “good enough.”
Melinda Beck, writing for The Wall Street Journal, noted: “Experts say that perfectionism can become toxic when people set standards that are impossibly high and believe that they are worthless if they can’t meet them.”
With so much pressure, it is no wonder that people experience various forms of dysfunction, including feeling anxious, obsessive compulsive and depressed, and ultimately may become discouraged, exhausted or even throw in the towel, giving up altogether.
Perhaps the increasing work-life demands we face and our need to be perfect are contributing to the highest suicide rate in 15 years, which according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reached 12.4 suicides per 100,000 people or 38,364 deaths in 2010. Suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and is the tragic, final way out.
Yet with the rise of the 21st-century high-tech, rapid pace, always-on society, there’s ongoing, unrealistic expectations of performance perfection in terms of endless renewal through creativity and innovation; faster, better, cheaper products and services; greater work productivity in the office, or remotely at home or at Starbucks; and, of course, a dedicated and loving family member who is there, fully, for spouse, children and elder care needs.
The message from parents, teachers and bosses that we are not good enough because our achievements are not sufficient, we’re not trying hard enough, or we are just “lazy,” “dumb” or otherwise deficient, flies in the face of the unconditional love that we all need to be confident in going out there and “conquering the world.”
While we are taught that we must dot our i’s and cross our t’s, we need not be perfect to a “T,” but rather perfect to a point. And that point is where, as I tell my own children, you are trying your best.
The competition in life seems like it is with others for the acceptance letter to that A school, Fortune 500 job or C-suite position and more, but the truth is the competition is really with ourselves.
You cannot be anyone else but who you are. You need to make the most of the gifts that G-d gave you. Your circumstances and tests in life are unique to you, and how you handle them and persevere, learn and grow is what will ultimately help to perfect your person — body, mind and soul.
So recognize the importance of the journey over that of the goal — and accept the task of working to perfect ourselves, rather than of truly being perfect, or as I learned in Jewish Day School, there are no angels here on Earth, only in heaven.