1) the state or quality of being perfect.
2) a person or thing considered to be perfect.
3) the action or process of improving something until it is faultless.
“So don’t tell me you can’t forgive me
Cause nobody’s perfect, no!”
Cause nobody’s perfect, no!”
-Jessie J, Nobody’s Perfect
Recently, as an ice-breaker during a training course I had to attend, the course leader asked us all what our “perfect evening” would consist of. Many people mentioned relaxing, films and wine. I decided to attempt quirkiness and remembered working at MKZ, a squat bar in Amsterdam and how I would love to go there with my partner as a perfect evening. One person, though, said “I’ll tell you about a good evening but I don’t believe in anything being perfect.” Although not really in the spirit of the thing, I must say that I quite liked her answer. Maybe the occasional and usually small thing can be perfectly appreciated or perfectly timed: a cup of coffee; a hug; a song; even an evening. But the bigger things, like life in general, or a relationship can never be perfect. They can only be the best that they can be. That was the motto of my second school: Be the Best You Can Be.
It is our instinct, I think, to strive towards perfection. From a young age, we want things “just so.” The layout of our toys as children, to the state of our clothes as teenagers, to our careers as adults. We want things to be right and, more than right, we want them to be perfect. There is an idea, perpetuated on social media (though that’s a tired argument) that there is such a thing as a “perfect life”- one which will make everyone feel constantly inadequate because, guess what? It’s an unrealistic goal. As the woman at my training said, perfection doesn’t exist. As we measure our lives against those of others, what we are measuring up against is never perfection but its illusion, not what we desire but what we believe we do. The old saying goes, “you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors” and it’s true. You don’t.
We start so many sentences with “well, in a perfect world…” followed by all manner of things, from the silly to the serious, the personal to the political. What would a perfect world look like? The Garden of Eden? Plato’s Republic? More’s Utopia? And, as many people argue, perfection might not be something we actually want. Perfection might be boring (although, perhaps, in a perfect world there is no such thing as boredom).
For a long time, I was very much a perfectionist, particularly when unwell. I would attempt definition (3) constantly, trying to perfect everything I did until it was… well… perfect. I don’t know if anyone remembers my blogging about my absolute obsession with an essay I was coping with in 2013? I stressed about it, paragraph by paragraph or even sentence by sentence, until I felt it was acceptable- and even then fretted about it not being perfect. Other things (tidiness, self-care, mental state) slipped far from perfect as I tried to grasp at the straws of promised perfection. I felt totally lost in the whirl of perfectionism.
The other thing I used to get panicked about the perfection of? My body. For a long time, I struggled to obtain what I considered the perfect body- but every time I reached my goal, the goalposts changed. Should I stop at a certain weight? Should I keep going? Did smaller mean perfect-er, and therefore, was my true aim unbeatable smallness? I lost all sense of perspective/ reality in the face of an unrealistic aim: perfection. Perfection was a dangerous aim because the “closer” I got to it, the more I realised it was unattainable- and I couldn’t accept that, so I kept moving in the direction I thought it might lie.
I am not a perfectionist now. Like my old school, I aim to be the best I can be at any given time. The details I sometimes allow to slide in favour of the bigger picture. When I try to make things perfect, is when they start to fall apart. If you are always striving towards a “perfect” relationship, for example, you end up picking apart every small detail that gets in the way of its perfection. If you try to create a “perfect” life, you will face nothing but disappointments as the smaller details of your life fail to meet your standards. If you strive for the “perfect” body, as I said above, you run the risk of driving yourself into the ground attempting to achieve it, whatever “perfect” in this case means to you.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t strive towards greatness, just that there is more to life than the achievement of flawlessness. The closest you can really get to perfection is to do the best you can and make sure that the bigger picture remains beautiful, even if the details can be a little off. That’s my belief, anyway. I try to hold it firmly.