The Pursuit of Perfection is Good for You

D.R. McElroy

Perfection is a Buzz Kill…but We Should Strive Towards it Anyway· 3 min read

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Human beings aren’t perfect. Most of us know this; some of us loudly deny it. Regardless, healthy minds accept the fact that people are limited by a number of different factors. Buddhists believe that it is our immersion in the material world; Christians believe it is our innate sinfulness. Some psychologists believe it is our incurable narcissism, while others think it’s our childhood trauma.

It could be any of these things, or all of them — or none of them. Ultimately, it is not the knowledge of what limits us, but rather the acceptance of our limitations that matters.

Acceptance does NOT mean apathy, however. Acceptance isn’t surrendering to chaos. Acceptance is instead a starting point for improvement. From the point of acceptance, we can reconnoiter how and where to begin the battle for change.

It’s in our DNA.

And it is a battle. Change comes hard to most of us. We’re hardwired for routine: following established, familiar trails means we’re less likely to get lost, to get separated from the group, and be eaten by a sabertooth tiger.

Routine also means that the brain can pay attention to more important things. The body has an autonomic nervous system that ensures we continue breathing when we’re asleep, that our hearts keep beating while we’re unconscious, that we don’t choke on our food. This system frees the brain from having to pay conscious attention to the minutiae of everyday existence. Can you imagine if we had to be sure that we remembered to breathe every few seconds? It would be the entire day’s occupation just drawing a regular breath and keeping our hearts beating.

But we DON’T have to do these things, and so our brains are free to think creatively and to solve problems we encounter daily — like perfection (see how I brought that back to the topic?)

Truthfully, perfection itself isn’t a problem. Even the pursuit of perfection is fine.

It’s the dogmatic insistence on achievement that’s the real issue.

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Take grammar. I know, I know. Grammar is like math: you either hate it or you deal with it as a necessary evil. Some of us (me included) just LOVE grammar — and love correcting people on its proper usage. Why do we do this? It’s not like mathematicians go around correcting people’s long division (wait: do they even teach long division anymore?) Maybe mathematicians accept that lots of people suck at math, while we grammar fiends feel that speakers of the language should be able to write it properly, too.

So, this brings us back to perfection. While grammar standards are in decline, there are plenty of other arenas where the pursuit of perfection isn’t in vain. Like bodybuilding, gymnastics, and ballet. Or dog shows. Or gardening.

Perhaps the most important thing about aiming for perfection is to avoid emphasizing achievement over the journey itself. We learn lessons in life by having experiences, both good and bad, and moving on from them. If we get stuck in our failure, we never allow ourselves the freedom to rise up and try again. If we dwell on our success, we never let ourselves grow beyond that moment to even greater things.

Striving towards something greater.

It’s vital that we, as humans, continue to strive towards something greater than ourselves. Whether one does so spiritually, physically, or philosophically is a matter of personal choice. What’s important is that we have an idea that we aren’t currently the be-all, end-all of the universe; that there is no resting on our laurels.

If we’re honest, we don’t have that many laurels to begin with. Regardless of your politics, most Americans — and an even greater number of humans elsewhere on the planet— feel that the world is in trouble.

It is more important now than at any other time in human history that we seek that “something greater.” We need to turn our collective conscience to the betterment of not just ourselves as individuals, but of our world.

Maybe this is easier than it sounds — but then, maybe it isn't. If each of us would just choose one person other than ourselves to care about, everyone in the world could be taken care of. Just one. We're great at taking care of good old Number One; Number One doesn't have to worry. It's that person next to us, or behind us, or even in front of us that needs caring for.

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D.R. McElroy is a published author, writer, and copy editor with 15 years professional experience. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture and a Masters in Environmental Resources. A conservationist, naturalist, and environmental advocate, she spends her time writing nonfiction articles on a variety of topics, as well as writing books on contract for publishers. D.R. wants to build a community of people who love nature and wildlife as much as she does, and who want to help protect our resources for public use.

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