The Paradox of Perfection

Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.

Vince Lombardi

I’m a goddamn perfectionist. I’ve been like this as far as I can recall. I always demand the highest quality (translation: never enough) of work from myself and other people, to the point that it can be very toxic to work with me. And at times, I’d rather work by myself than with others because people have a hard time catching up. It has toned down over the years, but I need to be conscious when it becomes out of control.

Perfectionism has an associated stigma to it. And I can’t blame people why they put a bad label to it.

Perfection is a myth. No matter how much you struggle, there will always be something better.

Perfectionists are procrastinators. In writing the next article, I’ve actually written about four different topics before settling with this one (and the other four are still drafts).

Finally, perfectionists are hard on themselves. We self-criticize, thinking that everything we do is not good enough.

All these traits create a vicious cycle. It damages us internally due to the constant stress it generates. It damages relationships, because we tend to expect the same from friends and colleagues.

I am here to tell you that being a perfectionist is not as bad as what people think. I have embraced my perfectionist nature a long time ago, and I do my best to make it work for me. Rather than changing who I am, I supplement it, thus staying true to who I am as a person. Not everything is a disorder. We just look at things differently.

How does one embrace the paradox of perfectionism? Here are my methods that you can adopt:

Perfection is unattainable. You can only come close to it. CTTO

Accept that you cannot reach perfection. You can only come close to it. – Perfection and reality have an asymptotic relationship. A perfect square cannot be achieved without measuring at the subatomic level. Understand what is achievable with the knowledge and tools that you have, rather than stressing yourself over what you don’t have.

The bigger picture is as important as the details. – As perfectionists, we obsess with the details. T h e spa cing of thi s sent e n ce is p robab ly going to dri ve s ome of y ou nu ts (and my OC nature is trying to compel me to edit the damn thing). Good craftsmanship requires looking at every detail, but it should be cohesive and contribute to the overall goal. If you’re expending a lot of effort for little return, you may need to step back and look at the bigger picture.

Not everyone cares about the same things as you. And that’s OK. – In my first job, when a manual says you weigh 1.000 grams, I ensure I get 1.000 grams. It matters a lot to me, as that is part of my training as a chemist. That will not matter to other people, and that’s OK. It is important to be flexible when your demands are not meant (and that’s 99.999% of the time). Doing so allows you to work better with people, and you can even go as far as scaling your life.

Be prepared to iterate. A lot. – Perfection is not possible the first time around. It requires dedication and perseverance. Embrace failure. It’s OK to not get it right the first few times. Strive for incremental improvements. This helps build a growth mindset.

Perfectionism should not be treated like some disorder. Being a perfectionist pushes you to become a better version of yourself every time, as long as you keep your foot on the ground.

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