Part 3: Why Being a Perfectionist is a Real Weakness

Perfection.

Oh, how much I have done to chase after you like an obsessed hunter stalks his prey. To me, perfection is the most desirable and precious quality that is to be acquired at any cost. Perfection is worth all the possible sacrifices. Perfection is the crowned jewel of my existence. With it, I am complete; without it, I am meaningless. Everything I do, any endeavor I pursue, must have perfection as its lifeblood. Indeed, that is how much I value perfection.

In all honesty, referring again to my childhood, I’ve always been very competitive. I think it’s a good attribute to have; those who have played Monopoly with me would beg to differ. If there’s a prize to be won, I want it. This would give you the impression that I’m well-equipped to survive in today’s hyper-competitive world. But this competitive nature coupled with my pursuit of perfection is a dangerous combination. It’s a combination that has definitely benefitted me in certain aspects of my life, but its demerits inexorably outweigh its benefits. In a job interview, when you’re asked, “What is your biggest weakness?”, you’re forbidden from saying those cliched words, “I’m a perfectionist.” Oh, the irony.

Society views perfectionism as a positive quality; in fact, it is viewed as the best quality one can possess. Humanity’s greatest achievements are all endowed with impeccability. But what price does perfection exact? Can the endless stride towards flawlessness be a flaw itself? In my experience, (and I am sure countless others’) perfectionism is a bane rather than a boon. The best way I can describe the compulsive need for sublimity is as an enormous weight that is invisible to everyone but you. It slows you down, often immobilizes you, and you can do nothing else but fixate on it. It affects every iota of your existence, and occasionally, so subtly that even you are oblivious to its impact. I’ve fallen victim to perfection’s insatiable demands, and I have had several struggles with it too.

Remember my habit of journaling and how I mentioned that everything needed to be perfect? I was not fibbing. As a young child, I used to love drawing and doodling. I was passionate about drawing, and I enrolled in art classes to furnish that passion. A favorite pastime of mine would be to invite some of my friends over and spends hours coloring and creating new worlds from our imaginations. However, the devilish duo of perfection and competition would not allow me to enjoy drawing much longer. Soon, any time I put pencil to paper, I had to create a masterpiece. If I did not deem my drawing worthy enough, it would be thrown in the dustbin.

This drive for perfection slowly escalated. I did not like my handwriting, so I devoted all my energy to making it beautiful. As I grew older, I began participating in competitions such as debates and poetry recitals: unsurprisingly, I did not stop with my need for exquisiteness. Hours would be spent ensuring that the cadence of my (rather squeaky) voice was pitch perfect. My speeches had to be no lesser than Churchill’s. As I grew even older, I had to be the top of my grade. I had to score the perfect marks, and I had to be the faultless student. Mediocrity was unacceptable. Good was not good enough. Perfection. Perfection. PERFECTION.

Ugh, exhausting. This is what I mean. Perfectionism is a real weakness. It was not long before I began to see its negative consequences. I would find myself unable to commit to new undertakings because of the persistent pressure for anything I touched to be flawless. Even when I did accept a task or project, I would find myself unable to complete it because it just wasn’t good enough. Furthermore, I wanted myself to be perfect. Greatness follows perfection. And who doesn’t want to be great? Why would I want to be ordinary?

This inner craving for perfection and greatness stretched my mental stability to its limits. The necessity of this enticing entity has had powerful repercussions – I often procrastinated because I had conditioned myself into believing that everything needs to be immaculate, and immaculateness is not instantaneous and needs an immense amount of time. I do not allow myself to be happy with whatever I accomplish; I find myself afraid of failure, but ironically, through this attitude I do nothing but set myself up for failure. Lastly, I abandon self-compassion. This is a great list of negative consequences, but I assure you I will cover each in depth as I progress.

It is perhaps no shock that the constant emphasis on efficiency and results has led to an astronomically high number of students, young adults, and millennials suffering from burnout, anxiety, and depression. This perpetual churning out of highly qualified professionals with lustrous resumes to fill up in-demand corporate positions has led to progressively worse levels of frustration and emptiness. Along the way, we have lost our way by only delving deeper into this hyper-competitive approach of living life. I am not saying being ambitious and paying attention to detail are terrible qualities. These are certainly admirable traits so long as they do not override every other desire and passion you possess.

While productivity and progress are essential to our existence, it is equally crucial to develop empathy and understanding. How terrible would it truly be if someone failed an exam in their Math class? How horrendous would it truly be if a person did not get the promotion they yearned for all their professional life? How awful would it be if someone didn’t win the first prize in the dance contest they worked so hard for? I would be lying myself if I said I haven’t felt devastated by failing to achieve a goal, but do you see where I’m going with this? Inculcating this kind of philosophy is what truly makes someone stand out from the others – allowing yourself to be battered by failure, but always picking rising out of its clutches and moving forward. It is the only thing that matters.

Due to my troublesome history with perfection, I have realized that perfection is alluring; perfection is illusory; perfection is a fugazi. Scrapping away this kind of addiction is not going to happen overnight. Even now, as I write these words, I find myself constantly searching for inefficacy, questioning what people would think, wondering whether this will ever be meaningful. But my realization provides me with the strength to overcome this seemingly insurmountable mountain. Sometimes, you just have to take the bull by the horns, and say, “f*ck it.” Recognizing that human beings are inherently flawed entities, and, therefore, do not create anything perfect in actuality is essential. As a perfectionist myself, I have learnt an invaluable lesson: embrace the imperfections; start learning to accept that the true beauty of life lies not in perfection, but in endeavor. To reiterate, life is not perfect – but then again, how boring would it be if it were?

4 thoughts on “Part 3: Why Being a Perfectionist is a Real Weakness

  1. Perfection is a drag if it is taken as a pursuit. When it becomes part of our quest in life then its like just any other facet populating our thoughts and shaping our pursuits. Perfection does stoke pressure too but then in a world where everything about survival is joined to how well honed our instincts are ,can we really afford not to pursue perfection in some form? To deal with it is to acknowledge that all effort may not lead to a singular achievement, but what you learn through your endeavour will see you through in an unexpected moment in life. Being a perfectionist is more a virtue than anything else. Its the stressing over it part which needs to be managed.

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  2. Thank you so much for sharing! Perfectionism has resulted in huge anxiety for me. If I am not perfect at something I feel worthless. This also makes it easy to give up tasks I’m not immediately good at, and only stick with what I know gains the greatest results! I need to do some serious rethinking of my priorities!

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