Why you Should Stop Chasing Perfection

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Reading time: 3 minutes

The pursuit of perfection ennobles us. It’s something our parents have been telling us since we were kids: strive for perfection and you will achieve great things. Shoot for the moon and you will land among the stars. Even general Colin Powell said:

Success is the result of perfection…

Well, I say it’s bullshit! Let me explain.

Perfection is an ego-driven delusion

Anybody who thinks he/she has achieved perfection is disconnected from reality. We all know somebody like that. Go ahead, take a minute to think who might be. I’ll wait.

Now send them this article and tell them to see a shrink. They will probably ignore your advice because, after all, they have achieved perfection. But it’s the best thing you can do for them. Even if you’re thinking “Why should I even bother?”, do it. Because…

Perfection is dangerous

If you’ve ever been to Budapest, you’ve likely heard the legend of the Chain Bridge. Its chief engineer, Adam Clark, was sure he could build the perfect bridge. So sure that he challenged people to find flaws in his masterpiece. But on inauguration day somebody pointed out that the sculpted lions didn’t have tongues. Having failed to achieve perfection after years of toil, the engineer jumped in the Danube and killed himself.

Budapest Chain Bridge
The Chain Bridge in Budapest. Foto: https://www.goodfreephotos.com/

That’s just an urban legend (Adam Clark died of pneumonia). But the link between perfectionism and suicide is real. In an article for Independent, Olivia Petter found several studies supporting the idea. One study even said that “pressures to be perfect are part of the premorbid personality of people prone to suicide”. It may be just correlation and not causation, but I’m not willing to take the risk.

Perfection is a lost cause

There are plenty of causes worth fighting for. Perfection isn’t one of them. You will get far better results and more satisfaction fighting for better education. Or eradication of poverty. Or whatever seems worth your time, just not perfection. Why? Because nobody ever attained it and nobody ever will. Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what a real artist said about this:

Have no fear of perfection — you’ll never reach it – Salvador Dali

Perfection feeds procrastination

I’ve found that perfection is the ideal excuse to not finish a project. Heck, I have several blog posts and a doctoral thesis in neuroscience still unfinished because of this. Every time I’m close to completing a project, my mind goes into this irrational panic mode. Once you finish it, it’s done — you can’t change it. What if it’s not perfect? Newsflash: it never will be! So instead of fooling yourself, stop chasing perfection and focus on progress instead. Just seek to get better, it’s the only way you will improve.

Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection – Kim Collins

Perfection is unnatural

You’ve probably heard people say things like “nature’s beauty is perfect” or “only God’s creation is perfect”. It’s not. Anybody who has studied a bit of biology will tell you it’s not. Atoms decay, DNA gets damaged, and the supreme result of evolution, the one species dominating the planet, is far from perfect. That’s natural. Trying to achieve perfection goes against our nature.

The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection – George Orwell

If you’ve made it this far, now you’re probably thinking:

“So what else is there? If nothing and nobody is perfect, what should we aspire to?”

Beauty. Although there is no perfection in the world, there is a lot of beauty.

Mold art by Selin Balci
Mold art by Selin Balci

Romanian poet Tudor Arghezi wrote a volume entitled “Mold flowers”. His idea was that you can find beauty everywhere around you — even in mold. You just have to look close enough.

So go out there and start discovering beautiful things. If you can’t find any, look closer. And if you still can’t find beauty, create it yourself.

Write a beautiful sentence, take a beautiful picture, or be the cause of a beautiful smile.

Because in the end, when you discard the illusion of perfection, beauty is all that’s left. It’s all we can hope to achieve. And it’s definitely worth it.

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