Perfection Is Overrated

The great cellist Pablo Casals was once asked by the sound engineer during a recording session to redo a section where the intonation had been a little off. Indignant, Casals replied: “But that’s the way I played it!”

As someone who hears the constant voice of self-criticism, I was struck with admiration for Casal’s integrity. How many of us have such loyalty to “imperfect” reality that we would refuse the opportunity for a do-over? Most of us are much more focused on achieving perfection – a life free from flaws and mistakes.

Perfection: A Questionable Quest

Performing artists and athletes spend hours practicing their craft or sport, striving to ensure a “perfect” performance. In the workplace, we’re intent on presenting an unimpeachable front to colleagues and superiors, and legions of brides spend outrageous sums to create the ideal wedding day.

But what is perfection exactly — and how do we know when we’ve achieved it? Is it possible that the eternal pursuit of perfection could actually spell eternal dissatisfaction? What can’t we simply have Casal’s attitude of appreciation for “the way we played it”?

Cindy Crawford’s mole, Lauren Hutton’s gap-toothed smile. Makes you wonder whether absolute perfection isn’t actually a little boring.

A Moving Target

Of course, this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t seek to improve and achieve our best. But in this age of computer and surgical wizardry, the standards of perfection are constantly changing, heightening our fear of making mistakes or appearing less than perfect.

When you find yourself more focused on hiding your blemishes than enjoying your life, you might keep these points in mind:

  • Keep it real. For many of us, perfection equates with receiving approval and being liked (or at least not annoying anyone): “If I’m perfect, everyone will love me.” But while people may be fascinated by the promise of perfection, they won’t necessarily be comfortable in its proximity. As humans, we stumble and fall, blurt out inappropriate comments. It’s what makes us authentic and not automatons. And when we see that others – even the kickboxing instructor at your gym with the “perfect” body – do the same, we feel a greater connection with them than we would if they never screwed up.
  • Appreciate your mistakes. Traveling the path toward perceived perfection means experiencing glaring imperfection. But paradoxically, it is our fear of appearing foolish that impedes us. Why not emulate young children, who learn without inhibition or self-doubt because they’re more caught up in the joy of self-expression and learning new skills than they are in the fear of making a mistake. After all, mistakes serve to help us appreciate expert execution all the more.
  • Is it perfect yet? Regardless of how far we’ve come, we maintain our insistence that, “No, if only it were like this, then it would be perfect.” Where did we get our notions of perfection anyway – is it possible that we’ve been conditioned by society and media into a false belief that there is universal agreement when, in fact, there’s no definitive consensus on what that is? Is the “perfect” dinner party the one with the exquisite flower arrangements, carefully matched settings and elaborate desserts, or the one with nonstop laughter?

So when you’re beating yourself up because things are not going the way you think they should, who’s to say you can’t pronounce things perfect just as they are – no matter how frustrating, embarrassing or out of tune – because “that’s the way you played it”?


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