Have you been called a “perfectionist”? It can be a great compliment, signifying your extreme effort to accomplish the best at everything you do. In practice, however, accomplishing anything short of perfection can create suffering.
By suffering, I don’t necessarily mean you’re on your death bed. Suffering can manifest in the form of anger, resentment, and jealousy.
Voltaire advises, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” That is, striving for perfection becomes your enemy when it keeps you from savoring the good.
Begin by having deep compassion for your imperfection.
Compassion for yourself and others is a life-long practice of stripping away self-hate. Its realizing that your best effort in every realm of your life, despite not reaching perfection, is enough. You are enough.
Living a dynamic life means living fully in many realms, i.e. the spiritual realm, the professional realm, the sports realm, the family realm, etc. By definition, you cannot take on every trait of every realm. Yet, we still try…
I often try to be the perfect lawyer and the perfect life coach, yoga teacher, and spiritual being. Clearly, that’s a recipe for disaster. When I notice this strive for perfection, I release disappointment and work towards compassion.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
- The Dalai Lama
The most compassionate response is not to judge your perfectionist efforts. Rather, take a step back, see that urge for perfection, then watch it. Bring awareness to the urge without forcing it away. Slowly it will dissipate.
the perfect trap
Now once you acknowledge this perfectionism is harming, and stake the claim “I’m a recovering perfectionist”, you may create another thing to do perfectly. This is the perfect trap–trying hard to not be perfectionist, that you approach the practice with perfectionist intensity.
Instead of feeling like a failure when perfection is impossible, appreciate every step you take. Some examples:
- I accept that I make careless errors in my writing, even after proof-reading (a lot).
- I meditate sometimes. Not everyday.
- I’ll take more than 24 hours to respond to emails once in a while.
- In a yoga asana practice, I cheat in pigeon sometimes by not going to the most difficult expression of the posture.
- Occasionally, I don’t drive in a loving way and I honk at bad drivers.
We’re human beings and we have imperfections. Forgive yourself for not reaching the impossible. Shower yourself with compassion. Savor the good.