Perfectionism

I broke a fingernail. Myperfect” fingernails walked seamlessly into the realm of reality the day before Easter.  It happened incognito.  The middle one, you know the one, appeared maimed to its jagged edge, which you could barely call an edge since it was emaciated right to the quick.

Unusual for my modus operandi, I said, “oh well,” tidied it up and moved on.  There was a time, back in the land of perfectionism, that I would have been compelled to cut all of my nails very short to accommodate that one broken one.

Wouldn’t it be appalling if someone should notice this lack of order, consistency, balance or perfection in me, right?  If they notice at all, does anybody really care, beyond “oh, you broke a nail?”

Atelophobia, the fear of imperfection, is probably a somewhat self-conscious fear, thinking that people notice you more than they actually do.  Sadly, most people are more concerned about themselves than they are about you

I wonder if all perfectionism is in some sense trying, without success, to accommodate brokenness because we can’t maintain perfection indefinitely?  After all, one definition of perfect, is “excellent, beyond practical.”

Is it enough to maintain a perfect façade?  The house might be crumbling inside, but if the outside looks good, all is well.  Or so it seems.

Expectation, accommodation and adaptation to reality might be the real circle of life, as it turns out.  If I’m honest, I didn’t really expect my nails to all stay one length, looking perfect, for long.  Experience tells a more realistic story.

I don’t know what day it was but one day something clicked in me and I decidedly preferred peace over perfectionI became a utilitarian after having been an idealist for eons.

I was a teenage idealist.  It seems that sometime along the line, I lowered my standards of excellence.  “Lower your standards,” someone shouted.  “For shame!”

Whoa, hold on a minute.  Who set those standards to begin with?  Me thinks it was me, when I was an idealist.  I’ve since, relinquished my mental perfection-detection meter and re-defined certain minor flaws as a variation of normal.

For a Sociology course I taught, I studied utopian communities of the 19th century.  Do you have, or your family had, Oneida silverware, an Amana refrigerator or freezer, or a Shaker cabinet or ladder-back chair?  All three of these renowned crafts are products from utopian communities.  They were idealists who no longer remain as living, contemporary communities.

Idealists lose steam because the reality is that any philosophy which demands perfection and rejects anything less, will fail the test of time.  People are flawed.  No one can conform absolutely to the highest degree of excellence, consistently and forever.

Excellence has degrees.  You’ve heard the increments: good, better, best.  It has been said that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”  Or, as Voltaire said, “The best is the enemy of the good.”  Confucius said, “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”

The drive toward perfection can be a good thing because it may just result in a great thing.  But the dark side of the pursuit of perfection is the persistent attitude that says, “if it’s not perfect, it’s not right.”  This translates to, “I’m not right, or good enough.”

Enough is a parallel concept of perfection.  When is good, good enough?

Can you stop on the road to perfection and say, that’s good enough?  Can you stop the car, at good?  Can you conclude, “I’m good?”

When is enough, enough?  Ancient Taoist philosopher, Lao Tzu (Laozi) says, “There is no greater sin than desire, no greater curse than discontent, no greater misfortune than wanting something for oneself.  Therefore, he who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.”

Someone once said perfectionism is a waste of time since twenty percent of your effort gleans eighty percent of your desired result.  Does eighty percent  work for you?

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