What is it that constantly drives us to try to be smarter, slimmer, prettier, better at what we do? Why do we compare ourselves to others, feeling smug in some cases and depressed in others? The simple answer is that striving for perfection is deeply ingrained in our culture, we are conditioned to aim for it. What’s more, this culture of ours is very visual and getting increasingly so, with images of perceived perfection staring at us from every corner and urging us to try and be more like them, even if deep inside we know we could never really achieve this (they can’t, either, that’s what airbrushing is for). Does this sound like a stressful experience? You bet. Is it a necessary experience, nonetheless? That’s arguable.
Author Carina Chocano, in a great article for the New York Times, gives a comprehensive summary of how the concept of perfection has changed through the ages: some Medieval thinkers believed that there is no way it can be attained through conscious effort, but come the 20th century the idea that we could all improve ourselves constantly, and that we should, became mainstream. There is of course nothing wrong with seeking personal betterment; putting conscious effort in trying to be a better mother for your children is something to be praised, but does this mean that you could become the perfect mother? Well, no. There is no such thing as a perfect mother. You’re probably the perfect mother in your kid’s eyes, even though your house is not squeaky clean at all times, even though you don’t look like Angelina Jolie, and even though you’re not a high-flying executive at a big law firm. You see, the point is that if you view perfection as being able to juggle as many social roles as is conceivably possible and juggle them well, which comes close to the contemporary notion of perfection, then it is a most definitely unattainable thing. Be that as it may, who needs it? If you think about it, is this sort of juggling worth the effort? Wouldn’t it be better to concentrate on the things that you know you can do well and that make you feel good without stressing you out? Because the feeling of achievement is a great one but every achievement comes at a price and this price is more often than not proportional to the significance of the achievement.
What all these questions are driving at is evoking the thought that it may not be a crime to feel comfortable with the way you are right now. Losing another 10 pounds may bring you closer to your personal idea of the perfect you but the process could make you feel miserable, so are you sure you really need to lose those ten pounds? Getting that promotion you’ve been working for would give you a bigger paycheck but it would rob you of your time with your family because you’ll have to work even harder when you get it. Think of an example for yourself, the situations when perfection calls to us with a siren’s voice are endless. Instead of succumbing to it, it might do you good to remind yourself that you are most probably already perfect for somebody; that there are people who measure themselves up against you and feel depressed by the result, in the same way that you do it with the embodiments of your idea of perfection. In short, listen to Salvador Dali, who says “Have no fear of perfection — you’ll never reach it.” Then go and enjoy what you have already achieved. Don’t stop dreaming big, just stop thinking that you have to make all these dreams a reality in order to be happy. Chances are you are already happy but you’re not noticing.