I came across a post today entitled “The Problem with Perfection”. In it, the following excerpt resonated with me and the current phase I’m at in my life:
Perfectionists tend to think that other people are somehow better or superior to them, so they need to be without flaw just to catch up.
I have always been a perfectionist in everything that I do. Take my writing for instance; I have posts that’ll probably remain unread because I don’t feel they’re quite good enough to publish. When it came to playing basketball, I was often the 1st guy in the gym and would slide the janitor a little extra to let me stay later. I have the tendency to agonize over the details of a task I’m doing because I want its presentation to be absolutely flawless. But this post made me pontificate over what perfection in its simplest state can be about.
The premise of Schwartz’s theory is that perfectionists are extremely insecure. Their propensity for the need to be perfect is rooted in placing heavy emphasis on the opinion and perspective of others. While I’ve never considered myself to be an insecure person, I can’t necessarily disagree with this. I mean as a writer, you want your work to be well-received. That doesn’t mean it has to be liked or people have to agree with whatever your thesis is. But you want an audience to read something you put your heart and soul into and be like “I get it”. As an athlete, no matter how many 3s you knock down in the gym, people only care about the game-winning shot. Nobody will acknowledge the hardships you overcame or the pain you fought through. At the end of the day, what can be counted is what will count. Kanye West and Lebron James are perfect examples of what the chase toward perfection can do.
When you’re under the watchful, judgemental eye of the public, it’s a heavy weight to balance on your back. Nothing you ever do is right and everything you do gets questioned. No other athlete in recent history is as polarizing as Lebron James. Very few artists get the universal scrutiny that Kanye West does. Yet if you’ve looked at their bodies of work, it’s easy to quantify why the need for perfection is so important to them. For Kanye, his only real competition is musically addressed on “Big Brother”. For Lebron, the constant comparisons to Kobe and Michael Jordan
(when he’s actually more like Magic, but whatever) often made him appear as a shell of his true dominant self. These are 2 men who are on the surface as different as Prince and Michael Jackson. But their need to be perfect is fueled by the same exact thing.
Perfectionists by their nature are often obsessive and sensitive. I won’t go so far as to say we’re people pleasers. But criticism, be it positive or negative, is what drives us. Every time I do something great that gets a positive reception, I immediately go into a mode of “how can I out-do myself?” For perfectionists, making it is never enough. Every time we reach a goal, it’s just signifies the beginning of chasing another 1. The chase doesn’t end. We get so bogged down by that full feeling of attention that at some point, reaching goals become solely about accolades of achievement. We fall in love with the romanticism of being the best at every turn. Sometimes it’ll take us to new heights we never imagined. But eventually, we allow that 1 shortcoming to have catastrophic language attached to it.
Honestly, being a perfectionist is exhausting. I get sick of myself sometimes. So I can only imagine how those around me feel. But I realize that the chase for perfection is the outward battle and manifestation of self-criticism. We all are much harder on ourselves than anyone else could ever be. Perfectionists often need to be saved from themselves.
So, is chasing perfection a bad thing?
It only becomes a bad thing when your chase stops being about you.