Many times over the years I’ve been told that I’m a perfectionist. Some shared this observation gently, a reflection of their sweet and caring natures. Others found my traits a direct affront and reacted in accusatory tones. Everyone, however, both the nice and not so nice, seemed compelled to remind me of this “fault”. Clearly many see perfectionism as a sizable personality flaw.
Below is a short list of signals often used to identify the accursed “P” affliction. A person with three or more of these is considered in deep trouble, or so the general thinking goes.
A perfectionist is a person who:
- Obsesses about details in an ever narrowing focus, yet is also prone to unreasonable displays of excitement when contemplating grand, nebulous, and fantastical dreams.
- Is constantly embarking on creative projects that take eons to complete.
- Can bring to bear on any task a mental focus that borders on mania, and can do it over extended periods of time. Freaky!
- Does countless reiterations of any work in progress.
- Has a bias for working on aspects of a project that outwardly don’t seem to influence the outcome of that project. “What on earth does he/she think he/she is doing?”
- If cornered and pressed, will talk your leg off about his/her latest project.
- Has a pronounced disdain for the minutiae of daily life.
- Considers the current popularity of reality TV shows a poignant reminder of society’s increasing mental and emotional degradation.
- Obsessively consumes vast amounts of information related to everything concerning the current subject of interest.
- Once an idea is passionately embraced, everything else becomes secondary.
- “Wastes” far too much time experimenting with outlandish ideas, methods, and approaches.
- Is an unrepentant workaholic.
- Is happy with his/her own company and contentedly works alone for extended periods.
- Periodically “disappears” from friends’ radar and has difficulty grasping the meaning of the word “antisocial”.
- Will sporadically declare to the world at large that “the work” is “the fun”!
- Is just plain uninterested in many accepted forms of entertainment, relaxation, and social interactions.
- Would rather be working and creating than taking a vacation.
- Considers creativity a fundamental cornerstone of existence. Not creating = not living.
Although I plead guilty to much of this, I do so conditionally. You see, in no shape or form do I consider myself a perfectionist.
While the list can certainly define a perfectionist, it can also point to a far more liberating approach to life. The confusion arises because the traits of perfectionism and the pursuit of excellence outwardly appear similar. They are, however, worlds apart.
While perfectionism is a trap that binds you to impossible goals, the pursuit of excellence sets you free.
Perfection is, by its very definition, unobtainable. When caught in the bind of constantly striving for perfection, your life spirals down into tighter and tighter actions that eventually lead to unrelenting stress and aching frustration.
In contrast, striving for excellence propels you towards freedom. There are no unattainable levels of perfection to aim for, only an increasing awareness of your capabilities and the urge to reach past limiting beliefs. Striving for excellence means inching your way out of your comfort zone, seeing what the world looks like from that side of the fence, and embarking on an exploration of what you’re really capable of.
Once begun in one area of your life, striving for excellence bubbles over into others, filling you with a universal passion to be the very best you are. Again, there are no rules or standards to live and play by. Instead you make up the rules at every step. And you can change those rules whenever you wish. Striving for excellence is, and always has been, about freeing yourself from limiting beliefs and actions, not forcing yourself to conform to an ideal.
Although the physical expressions of your actions (art work, gardens, music, food, etc.,) are still respected and loved for their intrinsic beauty, there is now a freedom to loosen your grasp and let them go wherever they will. When pursuing excellence, the act of creation becomes far more important than the products of creation. And therein lays the profound secret of the liberation it grants.
Creating with obsessive perfectionism condemns you to a relentless living hell.
And what many would see as an opposite, a life of aimless mediocrity, has its own flavor of all-pervading existential pain.
Embracing a life dedicated to striving for excellence couldn’t be further from either. When working and creating in a state of passion where the pursuit of excellence is integral to all you do, you embrace and welcome the profound gift of total engagement. And with that full and passionate involvement comes a deeply transformative way of being. Then life effortlessly morphs into something deeply worthwhile, something soaked in rich meaning.
A life lived in the pursuit of excellence has many gifts, but the greatest, I believe, is that it nudges you closer and closer to a state that borders on bliss.
And from there the ripples just keep on spreading.