Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful!
I have heard it said many times that my aim in life should be for progress, not perfection.
If you are like me, you have found giving perfection the gate easier said than done. I have had mixed results combating the tyranny that reigns from the inside of me when I come up short of my own expectations. I recognize that I may always struggle to keep the P-word in check at work and at home.
Since my mid-twenties, I have wrestled with perfectionism. I am not sure how I caught the disease, seeing as how I spent most of my adolescence “mailing in” below average efforts in nearly every area of my youth. At a certain point in my life, I came to the realization that if I was going to evolve beyond the person for whom I had already settled, I would have to raise the expectations that I had for me.
When I began holding myself to a higher standard in important areas of my life, I delivered increasingly exceptional effort. When I delivered exceptional effort, I experienced exceptional results. This cycle led to greater success and the accompanying affirmations provided the lift that I needed to redouble my effort.
At first, perfectionism seemed to be the ideal elixir for combating the abounding mediocrity in my life and the impact was nearly immediate. Like the person who first uses a controlled substance, I was convinced at first that I could keep my abuse in check. But within the span of twelve short months, I had inadvertently built my own life-sized hamster wheel, on which a ceaseless search for perfection became my daily grind.
Thirty years after my first sip from the tainted well of unrealistic expectations, I sometimes still feel like someone who is recovering from an addiction. I realize that I may never be completely free from the pull of perfection’s destructive force. As an alternative now, I am focused on allowing more room inside myself to be perfected. My predilection for holding on to the relentless pursuit of perfection, no matter the personal cost, can lead to disaster for me.
On the surface of things, there is an upside to all the extra effort. Many enjoy the trappings of perfectionism…material success, impressive external appearances, high output on projects, popularity, associations with “winners”, etc. However, these benefits come at a high price; borne mostly by the perfectionist and the people whom they love most.
In the churn of trying to do it all, perfectionists know that they cannot keep up the pace they have set for themselves. At the same time, they fear that falling off that pace means they will be exposed. The tension between these opposing forces leads to a spiritual rash in which anxiety and desperation are left to multiply and loom larger and larger.
As I have grown older, I continue to feel the pressure to perform at higher levels, but I have less energy with which to do so. I have more responsibilities than ever before and less spare time in which to get things done. The increased complexity has forced me to yield and accept my personal limitations.
It is a folly to compare myself to others if I want to be happy. What others think of me is none of my business either. When the pressure to reach for perfection mounts, I reassure myself, remembering that I have been in this bind before. I am old enough now to recognize the revolving phases of my interior life. In all my years of trying, perfectionism has never provided more than temporary relief of my dissatisfaction.
There is a deeper source of what is at work inside of me. Striving for perfection is a misguided attempt to compensate for the unsatisfied hunger that lies within. I am convinced that my spiritual life will take on a greater dimension if I shift my focus from trying to be perfect to allowing myself to be perfected. I need not be in a rush either. I am in search of something important; an even truer sense of myself that I can neither play-act nor create on my own. It is the giving up on being perfect that increases my chance of being perfected.
Thomas “TD” Dierker
Live like you’re dying…. cause you are!