September 2011

Perfectionism

When I was growing up, the TV landscape, such as it was, was dominated by shows like Ozzie & Harriet and Leave it to Beaver. What they—and later ones like Dr. Kildare and Marcus Welby, MD—had in common was an idealized portrayal of reality. You saw the perfect parents…the perfect family…the perfect doctor.

Today, in place of Ozzie & Harriet, the media bring us a steady diet of so-called “reality shows.” And the reality they depict—laced with greed and selfishness—usually isn’t pretty. Shows like that are, in their own way, just as much parodies of the human condition as the saccharine shows of my youth.  

I think that for all of us, the trick is to find a path between those two extremes. It’s crucial to try to live up to your “best self,” but equally important to realize that perfection is a myth. And I’d say it’s especially key to understand just how wide the gulf between the two really is.  

Paradoxically, perhaps, perfectionism is almost the opposite of the pursuit of excellence. It’s a matter of not being able to accept your own failings and therefore, typically, going to great lengths to make sure nobody else can see them, either. It even keeps you from getting better at what you do, because you’re too busy trying to be perfect to learn anything…from others…or from your own mistakes.  

Aspiring to be the best that you can be, on the other hand, starts with accepting what you’re not good at, and having the courage and humility to turn to others for help. I never cease to be amazed by how good other people are at things that don’t come easily to me. If I’m proud of anything, it’s that I “get” that.