Perfectionism: the good, the bad and the ugly
C/O Vitolda Klein, Unsplash
Chasing perfection is a societal ideal that rarely benefits the one chasing
Recently, I have noticed how often the term "perfectionism" is thrown around. Nowadays, it seems as if everyone is a proud perfectionist who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection.
Their sense of perfectionism will appear in their work ethic, study habits and even personal relationships. In spite of the rise of perfectionism in the last decade, I have had a difficult time understanding the glorification of this phenomenon.
To be clear, I don’t believe that individuals willingly fall into the trap of perfectionism. It's often society that pushes us towards perfectionist behaviours as we are incessantly told from a young age to improve and polish every aspect of our life that might be slightly blemished.
From our parents to our schools, to our mentors, we are told how the “real world” holds high standards that we have to live up to. Time after time, we have been told how achieving greatness stems from perfect work ethics, perfect grades and a perfect attitude.
Because of these harsh statements, many of us have been conditioned to only judge ourselves and our accomplishments on a zero to perfect scale — meaning if our work is not performed perfectly, it might as well deserve a zero.
For example, we often don’t feel proud if we score a 90% since our immediate thought is how we could have potentially achieved a 100%, but failed to do so. We slowly start losing happiness and joy because accomplishments are no longer satisfying if they are not “perfect.”
In fact, over 60% of McMaster students reported feeling higher than average levels of stress in a 2017 survey, leading to concerns about the effects of chronic stress in university students.
However, I must say that I don’t believe that perfectionism is entirely devoid of value. In fact, science has proven that “healthy perfectionism” exists. Studies have stated how in some cases perfectionism can often be a driving source to perform your absolute best and achieve the highest of accomplishments.
However, I must question, how thin is the line between “healthy perfectionism” and obsessive perfectionism? Can individuals who fall into the trap of perfectionism in their work life keep it detached from their personal lives? Wouldn’t relationships, hobbies and activities done for the sheer joy of it deteriorate if perfection is the only given option?
“The most evil trick about perfectionism is that it disguises itself as a virtue,” stated author Rebecca Solnit.
This quote excellently explains why so many individuals fall into the trap of perfectionism. They do so as they believe that this could increase their quality of work and they could reach perfection. However, the unfortunate truth is that the concept of anything ‘perfect’ is erroneous. Often, because individuals cannot define ‘perfect’, they assume they aren't reaching it, making perfectionism a never-ending cycle.
Candidly, we must take a step and ask ourselves, how are we defining a ‘perfect job’ or a ‘perfect relationship’? Or whether a ‘perfect grade’ is truly worth it, if it comes at the cost of our mental health?
We cannot let the false and outdated definition of perfectionism gain control over our decisions. In a world that is so cruel and chaotic at times, it’s foolish to rob ourselves from experiencing the simple joys of life.