Do You Believe in Perfection? [Part One]
This is part one of a four part series on the menace we call perfection.
Perfection is a loaded term. Much like its cousins genius and awesome, perfection is casually tossed around in everyday conversation.
There is a difference though. Generally we believe that people don’t develop into geniuses. Most of us don’t expect to ever be considered a genius because it has effectively been out of our control since birth.
Still, the term is used to liberally to describe mediocre accomplishments.
When someone says, “Hey, that post last post? Man, that was genius”. My first thought would be, well, we clearly have different views on what’s considered genius, but hey, thanks!
As for awesome, it’s kinda like that kid in high school you always knew was full of shit but was still fun to hang out with. Harmless, but never to be taken seriously.
If someone said, “Hey, that post was awesome!” there would still be a reasonable chance they actually thought it was shitty.
When either of these terms are used to validate our work it’s hard to get to excited. It’s kinda like when someone likes your tweet. You get a quick ego boost only to find out they’ve also liked promoted tweets from Bud Lime.
So my reaction to either compliment of my writing might be something like, hey, I appreciate the feedback, but:
- I’ll never be a literary genius (and I’m okay with that)
- Thanks for saying my post was awesome, but a few minutes ago you described the falafel you just ate as awesome. (In hypothetical defense of the falafel, it probably was awesome)
In both cases my future expectations of my writing would be unchanged.
Then, there’s perfection. Awesome and genius’s cousin who just got out of juvie for shooting their biology teacher with a BB gun.
“As for awesome, it’s kinda like that kid in high school you always knew was full of shit but was still fun to hang out with. Harmless, but never to be taken seriously.”
“Hey, that post? That was perfect.” Really? Wow. Perfect?
Let’s insert a caveat here. The person calling my post perfect would have to be a trusted source, also someone that was impartial. So, not my Mom… or my dog, if she could talk.
My first reaction would be that maybe my writing has peaked before I started. All future work would be measured against my perfect post.
What if my next post was only awesome? Or maybe it was actually shitty. My mind would begin to ruminate on my performance. I’d churn out thoughts on why I might fail and who I might disappoint.
The anticipation of perfection has a way of permanently altering expectations and taking us out of the flow of our work. The mind’s brief association with perfection disrupts the pattern which produced the exceptional results to begin with.
Work becomes more labored with the voice in your head demanding results that are difficult to duplicate and technically impossible to improve.
Your mind starts sucking wind. It’s like trying to beat your personal record in a 5K wearing snow boots.
While the Apollo 11 space mission experienced a few small hiccups it’s hard to see the results as anything other than perfect. Three men, as planned, boarded a metal container with enough combustible liquid to power a large city for a week. A few days later, they were walking on the moon.. the friggin moon.
How can you do better than that? The answer is you can’t, no matter how hard you try. Not even Elon Musk can help you yet.
Buzz Aldrin was one of those astronauts. Aldrin has talked openly about his struggles after descending from the heavens like a Mayan God.
In the months following his return to earth, his marriage failed. Another marriage after that failed. Within eight years of returning an international icon, Buzz Aldrin was working as a salesman at a Cadillac dealership.
He battled depression and alcoholism in the nine years after the mission finally getting his life back together in 1978.
We all become prisoners of our past performance within the projection of our future. Where do you go after you walked on the moon?
We’ve been told our whole lives that nobody is perfect. I don’t think anybody really believes it.
“We all become prisoners of our past performance within the projection of our future. Where do you go after you walked on the moon?”
We end up diluting perfect into better and we all believe, as we should, that we can be always be better. If we work hard we can be better at writing, or volleyball, or riding dolphins.
There’s nothing wrong with trying to be better, but better is not perfect, perfect is perfect, and generally, perfection is unattainable. Many of us fail to make this distinction while drowning in useless thought swimming toward an imagined goal.
It’s when we come to expect exceptional things and fail to appreciate the simple things that we run into problems.
Ready for part two?I take a peek at perfection’s ass hat partner, monkey mind.