November 5th, 2014
By Peter G. Vajda
Perfectionism is a common trait of successful business leaders. What about you? Do you sometimes berate yourself for not being “better” in some way? Do you strive for perfection in your professional or personal life and berate yourself for your perceived failures? Do you have memories of someone telling you you’ll never be good enough?
The thing about perfection is that it is unobtainable. There is no point at which we can say, “I’ve arrived – this is perfection”. Perfection is just an ego-driven idea. We think that being a “perfect 10″ means that we have no flaws or imperfections. Perfection excludes negative realities – an impossibility, no matter how hard our mind wants to convince us otherwise.
Pursuing perfection can be a useful first step in our growth process as it motivates us and gives us something positive to focus on. But perfection isn’t a healthy goal in itself. When we strive for perfection, what we’re really trying to do is to remove or mask our defects. And it is this self-reflection that is the catalyst for improvement and growth. That’s because one way we measure success and greatness is by assessing our failures – or rather, what we have learned about ourselves through these failures.
Wholeness, not perfection
Unlike perfection, the idea of “wholeness” is easier to embrace. As the word suggests – it is something that encompasses our entire self, both the positive and the negative. Perfectionism tries to deny the negative. Wholeness acknowledges it. Focusing on perfection is focusing solely on the personality, the outer, the packaging. Focusing on wholeness turns our attention on the essential truth beneath.
Moreover, wholeness doesn’t involve us trying to identify aspects of ourselves that are wrong or imperfect and trying to fix them. Instead, it lets us discover what our flaws have to teach us and how we can learn from them.
The thing about our flaws is that they challenge us to learn what we need to see about ourselves. No flaws, no challenge. No challenge, no growth. And when we learn what we are challenged to learn, our flaws start to lose their charge and in the process they often disappear.
The reason striving for perfection is often so exhausting is because we forget who we really are and become mired in some self-image or concept of who we think we should be. So the tell-tale feelings and emotions that accompany striving for perfection ought to be a signal for us to stop, take a deep breath and identify with our true self.
When we stop striving for perfection, we can give ourselves time for the silence and inner exploration that lets our sense of wholeness rise to the surface. And when we understand that it is fear that drives our self-sabotaging quest for perfection, we can discover the love that allows us to open to all that we are with curiosity, passion, excitement and acceptance.
All of us are flawed in some way– it’s a fact of life. But most of us either feel ashamed about our flaws or try to deny them. At an early age we learned to push affliction away and to seek solace in perfection. Rather than be open to suffering as a fact of life and acknowledging that our flaws are one of our greatest assets, we become defensive and live a life of avoidance.
It’s in this defensiveness that we reject ourselves, first begin to experience shame and guilt and engage in self-destructive, repressive and suppressive behaviours intended to help us avoid suffering.
But when we seek wholeness and accept our flaws, we start to grow. So during the coming days and weeks, try to reflect on how often you express who you really are – your wholeness – and how often you fall back into perfection-seeking behaviour. You might find the answer quite illuminating.
Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a founding partner of True North Partnering, a US-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.
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