Self Help Sanctum

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Seek Experience, Not Perfection

Are you a perfectionist? Do you demand perfection from yourself, from the rest of the world, or both?

Perfectionism has its good side. It drives you to give your best, to constantly aim bigger, better, higher... But the perfectionist is inevitably destined for frustration.

We are flawed beings living in an imperfect universe

Physicists believe the universe itself exists only due to an imbalance of matter and antimatter following the big bang, known as baryon asymmetry. Evolution of species only occurs because of imperfect copying (mutation) from parent to child, ie: without imperfection we'd all still be single-celled amoeba. Great discoveries have occurred by accident (or imperfection), so-called serendipity. Not least the discovery of penicillin, which occurred after biologist Alexander Fleming accidentally left a culture dish open.

Consider 2 people, a realist, Ron, and a perfectionist, Pete, setting out on a journey.

Ron has a rough idea of the route, packs what he thinks he'll need, and sets out. He makes a few wrong turns but isn't bothered, he can always turn back. One wrong turn took him to an incredible diner where he enjoyed the most amazing lunch on special deal. He stops over at a motel but realizes he's forgotten his toothbrush. Buying one at the store across the street he chats with the clerk who tells him a shortcut to his destination. Ron arrives next day, just 30 minutes behind schedule.

Pete on the other hand spends so much time making and checking lists of what to pack, checking weather reports, calculating times and costs of various routes, reading weather reports etc etc that he's still on his driveway as Ron arrives.

Are you more like Pete or Ron? Do you spend years trying to perfect your plans but never carry them out? Or do you have a rough idea of what you want and how to get it and set out ready to learn as you go?

There is an ideal degree of planning, too much is deleterious

Despite giving your best efforts, and despite various successes, you will inevitably fail at times. Don’t beat yourself up about this. We can learn more from failure than an untroubled route to success. The key is to seize the opportunities presented by your shortcomings.

Success and Failure

Success and failure are fluid concepts. The rich man in his castle and the beggar on the street are both headed for the same final destination, and the journey is very short.

Though superficially judged in material terms, success cannot be measured in terms of wealth. In the bigger picture possessions and status are meaningless. Indeed the harder (less "successful") road usually delivers the greater lessons.

As society "progresses" so we become more demanding of perfection and less patient and tolerant with others. But in a flawed universe, however well we personally do, external circumstances still go wrong – your car breaks, your bank screws up etc. This stuff is both frustrating and inevitable. But the more frustrated we get the more we damage ourselves.

Instead take a deep breath and a cool head. Make allowance for imperfection, and when it happens, assess: i) how it can be resolved, ii) what lessons to take on board to help prevent its specific recurrence.

Perfection is an ideal, but ultimately unattainable, goal. We give our best efforts to reach perfection and in so doing attain the best we are personally capable of achieving, but inevitably it will be less than perfect. This matters not since the goal of this finite lifetime is the acquisition of understanding. Any experience, regardless of how it’s perceived at the time, that increases understanding is a positive one.

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