It has come to my attention that many of you struggle, consciously and unconsciously, with the notion of perfection. You want to do really well but there is an edge to it. Instead of enjoying the process and having fun in the creation, you are forcing a result, anxious that it be perfect. In our conversations, I often hear a kind of striving for achievement and productivity. The problem is that for some of you it sounds like desperation, and for others, it sounds like an addiction!
I bet I could write a few articles on this because perfection is an issue that runs deep in our society, culture, and values. But why do we choose it?
The first place to start is where did the word come from then look at how the concept evolved. Let’s look at the definition of the word so we can be accurate in our thinking. As an adjective, perfect means without fault. As a verb, to perfect means to better, to improve, to ameliorate. If we could just stay in the definition of the verb we’d generally be ok. But more and more, we go for being perfect.
Let’s look at how we were conditioned. “Honey, play your scales. Practice makes perfect”, “I love that drawing, it’s perfect”, “that looks perfect”, and that wonderful hand-written word at the top of your tests in elementary school “Perfect!”. Look at advertising – “for the perfect shave”, “for that perfect moment”, “Ladies, look at him, look at me, look at him, look at me, for that perfect man…”, and so on. Just take a moment and think about how often you reply “perfect!” or use the word “perfect” – with colleagues, children, friends. We loosely use the word throughout our communications. The problem is that somewhere along the line we attached our self-worth to being perfect. C’mon, it felt great when our parents told us we were perfect (if they did) and it feels great when someone tells you you’ve done a perfect job! We feel special. But as we grow into adulthood, we have more experiences where not everyone is going to like us let alone tell us we color perfectly! And we have no control over that! In my experience, observations and through the hundreds of people I get to work with, being perfect is impossible. So let’s fall in love with reality and go for excellence. Now that’s achievable!
For those of you who are still skeptical, let’s go a bit further and look at the latin roots of the word. The word “perfection” derives from the Latin “perfectio”, and “perfect” from “perfectus”. These expressions in turn come from “perficio” which means “to finish”, “to bring to an end.” Perfection thus literally means “a finishing”, and “finished”. Pay attention to this: an argument that dates back to the ancient philosopher Empedocles states that if the world were perfect, it could not improve and so would lack “true perfection,” which depends on progress. Perfection depends on incompleteness, since the latter possesses the potential for development and for complementing with new characteristics.
Let’s direct that to our learning. If we were perfect, we could not improve. As the Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi said to his students as he was trying to explain buddhanature: “You’re all perfect exactly as you are, and you could use a little improvement.”
As most of you who work with me know, I love to test my “truths” in other areas of life. Let’s look at art. The perfection of an art work consists in its forcing the recipient to be active – to complement the art work by an effort of mind and imagination. One interpretation of this is that the art is not “finished” (or “perfect”). This paradox – that imperfection is perfect – also applies to technology in that imperfection (contaminants) is required for the production of semiconductors. Ok, that’s enough, you get my point!
My advice to you is to love your “imperfect-ness”. Accept the truth. That just means you are not yet finished. Isn’t that great?! The only thing you are going to experience, if you accept that you are imperfect, is a greater and expanded version of you!
Viva la différence!