The mirage of perfection
Perfectionism is a dangerous fantasy to be avoided at all costs. Already in the year 326 BC, Aristotle observed that a balanced life perspective is a prerequisite for attaining happiness. Unfortunately, the philosopher's voice has been long forgotten. As a result, millions of men and women are suffering from anxiety and depression.
In order to overcome adversity, man needs a rational response. Expecting flawless performance every time leads to obsessive behaviour, excessive preoccupation, and nihilism. None of those approaches work. None of them has ever improved anything.
Obsessive behaviour and excessive preoccupation will narrow your ambitions to the minimum and push you to waste hours on meaningless details. Nihilism, on the other hand, will deprive your life of direction, replacing ambition with neglect, and drive with dereliction. Under this philosophy, your vision will be reduced to perceiving, from everything, the worst. Convictions will turn into derision. Purpose will be wiped out by random decisions.
The rational approach
The rational approach to dealing with personal difficulties begins with discarding perfectionism. Errors are normal events in human action and you are unique in your genetic characteristics and personal circumstances. When things don't work out as expected, do not compare yourself with other people or with unrealistic standards of achievement. Such irrational comparisons bring nothing but misery.
Let go of chimerical expectations and make the best of your situation. Look for practical solutions. Assess different alternatives. Make a workable plan and implement it. In any case, you should abandon perfectionism right now, since its drawbacks dwarf its negligible advantages.
The wise alternative
Focused long-term action enables man to surmount major obstacles. Do no waste time with lamentations and wishful thinking. Keep on advancing on your chosen path and do not look back on past mistakes, except for drawing lessons for the future.
If you look around, you will find plenty of examples of people who have succeeded despite overwhelming burdens. Throw away expectations of immediate and flawless achievement. Maintain your serenity and trust the principle of cause and effect. Although life offers no guarantee of success, intelligent persistence has repeatedly proven to work. Can you extract some gain from each mistake? Time will wash away embarrassment and pain, but the teachings will remain.
The opposite of perfectionism is tolerance, the virtue of eliminating irrational demands and accepting a blemished reality. Tolerance brings openness and flexibility. Instead of expecting perfection, a wise man takes continuous steps to improve his results. When he is sailing, he watches the weather without getting angry at the changing wind because he knows that he can correct the course of his ship as often as he needs.
A good mental exercise against perfectionism is to imagine what you will do if your current projects fail catastrophically. How would you feel if, after working on a major sale for three months, the transaction fails to take place at the last minute due to a factor that you had not foreseen?
The rational response
The irrational response would be to fall into depression and self-recrimination. A more realistic and practical approach would lead to accept that your expectations may have been exaggerated in the first place. What will be the lesson for the future? A deal should be considered closed only when a contract has been signed.
Don't stop pushing before you cross the end-line, but at the same time, strive to maintain your serenity. Do not rely on half-cooked plans and always have a back-up solution. Do things fast and check them long. Take reasonable precautions, but leave perfectionism to the obsessed.
Preventive action helps minimize preoccupation and might save you a fortune down the road. Spread your bets, whether private or professional, and never place all your hopes on a single event that might or might not happen.
Do work in an organized and persistent manner, but at a certain point, stop worrying about results. Sometimes, things just don't work. Pushing beyond reasonable limits only makes bad situations worse.
What to do next
All resources are limited, including your emotional resources. Set clear priorities and do not overextend yourself. Write down your plans, as well as your alternatives in case of failure. Buy insurance against major risks instead of trusting your luck. A flawless world does not exist. Sooner or later, bad things happen.
Learn to judge events and people sensibly, and do not overreact to problems. The search for perfection is a delusion that wastes energy and obscures facts. Most things do not matter much in the long term. Rationality, although seldom easy, is the only practical response to adversity.
Abandon unrealistic expectations, and adopt a tolerant view of people and events. Strive to see things as they are, unpolluted by false ideals, and your self-confidence will increase. Perfectionism does not work because it ignores the crucial role that patience and persistence play in achievement.
All learning begins with openness and curiosity. Rigid expectations of impossible success prevent self-knowledge, and lead to anxiety. Focus on your strengths, not on what other people are doing. Define what is important for you without using statistics as guidance. Your values will tell you where to concentrate your resources.
Mistakes come in all sorts and colours. Learn to view them as stepping-stones leading you to a higher plateau. Accept errors and use them to your advantage. If you go with the flow, there is no limit how far you can row. Abandon perfectionism right now.
Image by SearchNetMedia under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us
For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books