When my daughter, Charlie, was 4-years-old she was in a ballet/tap combination class that is meant to introduce young children to two different forms of dance while also exposing them to the dance class dynamic. Parents were required to stay out in the hallway while a teacher instructed roughly ten 4-5 year-old girls on dance technique for 1 hour once a week. Charlie absolutely loved it and looked forward to class each week. The class ended when Charlie was 5-years-old. At that time, her teacher took me aside and recommended I submit Charlie for the dance competition team hosted by our dance studio. I was surprised given her young age, but then her teacher said something that chilled my very bones. She said, “Charlie is an ideal student. She listens and pays attention well. She works so hard to be perfect and will be an amazing dancer.” Many parents might be touched by these words, but I was terrified. There are few things that will freak out a psychologist who is a parent more than hearing their child “works so hard to be perfect.” All I could think is “eating disorder, here we come!”
Here is the thing. Perfection is impossible. It does not exist. I started researching on the internet things like “How to be Perfect” and found numerous lists with various steps on how to be perfect. You know what I found out? It is all crap. Total and complete crap. Each listed a number of things related to physical appearance like: dress well, style your hair, take care of your skin, smell amazing, and wear make-up. The lists include personal improvement suggestions such as: act confident, smile, be polite and respectful, focus on your education, respect everyone and anyone, and be positive and proactive. I think we can all agree these are positive things we might strive to be in our lives. But would doing each and everyone to our best ability make us perfect? Hardly. Somewhere in there it needs to include being true to yourself. What constitutes “dressing well?” Is it the clothes your parents might pick out for you? Or the styles favored by your friends? Or those featured in your favorite fashion magazine. This means perfection is subjective. If you were to try to satisfy all of these different perspectives, you will only make yourself crazy.
This is, unfortunately, often what I see when people try to be perfect, they only manage to make themselves miserable and unhappy. My recommendation? Figure out who and what is important to you. Be the best you can be in those things (not perfect, just your best). Perfection is unattainable and, therefore, unsatisfying. Don’t even consider it as a goal. Your goal is to do your best and accept that best. The saying is “Practice makes perfect”, but that is crap, too. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it can help you to improve a little bit at a time. Celebrate your improvements and efforts, not your nearness to perceived perfection.