Throughout this series of posts about perfection, I have pointed out the pitfalls of perfectionism. But, paradoxically, I would argue that despite all its drawbacks and dangers, we need perfectionism.
We want to believe in perfect solutions. We want better hospitals without paying taxes to fund them, safety from crime and terrorism without our civil liberties being impinged on, new technological gadgets without factory pollution. In reality, life is a constant trade-off. This is enshrined in various scientific laws, but also in simple folk wisdom: ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’.
Being a parent is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. At the same time, it is the thing I most desperately want to get right. Many parents probably recognize this. You give birth to this tiny little being, so perfect that it takes your breath away. You want to love and protect them, to keep them safe, in the untouched state in which they came from the womb.
As teenagers, my best friend and I spent many hours discussing our ideas of the perfect boyfriend. Piercing blue eyes or gorgeous deep brown ones, a warm smile, a good sense of humour, intelligent, considerate… it was a long list. At the same time as I dreamed of meeting this paragon of perfection, I held out no real hope of ever finding any boyfriend. They would undoubtedly have their own list of ideal traits in a girlfriend, and I was acutely aware of how few boxes I would tick.
I believe there are two sides of the coin for perfectionism. Some people strive for perfection out of a longing to achieve the very best that they can. Others strive for perfection out of fear of what happens when things go wrong. They are terrified of the consequences of a misstep and, even more so, of the reactions of other people to their ‘failure’.