Is Perfection Worth Striving For?

It’s practically an ingrained human impulse to strive for perfection. At least for many people, when you jump into the development of any new kind of anything — may it be a skill or a product or hobby — you want to get better at it with the implicit goal of achieving something at least close to perfection. But the question is, is that really a healthy way of thinking?

As with almost anything it seems, there are really two schools of thought here. The first is the school that says striving for perfection couldn’t possibly be a bad thing. Why not? It’s perfect right, what’s the point of setting your bar any lower?

The other side makes a pretty clear argument. Perfection is impossible, and you’re only going to hurt yourself pushing toward that unachievable ideal. So many people have scrapped great ideas and products because it didn’t cut an unreasonable standard, but would have worked just fine otherwise.

That second argument seems pretty convincing if you do really accept that perfection is just some fantasy that we all hold over our heads — a fantasy that is just as destructive as it is idealistic. But not everyone agrees on that point and they probably never will.

Maybe you buy into Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule — that you can achieve something close to perfection in any field if you just put in the time. Maybe you just know that you are the person who can beat the odds. Or maybe you’ve realized that it’s not about the fact of achieving perfection, but simply the desire and the drive to get there.

There’s little doubt that we achieve the most when we push ourselves harder than we ever thought we could. Any motivated effort like that needs a lofty goal to drive it. You could do the same old thing every day, you could be content with what you know you can achieve now, or you can take that challenge of perfection and tackle it head on.

Is it healthy to push yourself to those extremes? Not always. We all have to learn how to gauge our own capacity. That is perhaps the trickiest part of all of this. Some people thrive on the challenge. For others, it can be too much of a strain. Most of us oscillate somewhere between those two extremes.

As the Temple of Apollo at Delphi or The Matrix would tell you — know thyself. Know when it feels good to push and when it feels good to take a break. The only way to learn that is to get out there and try and test and re-evaluate. Happiness can be found in both these paths. It’s just a matter of really knowing which feels right at the time.

The journey toward perfection is never about getting there. The point isn’t to stop and sit back and say “I did that. I achieved perfection.” Perfection is impossible. It is a fantasy and a dream that we tell ourselves we can get there.

But the truth is that greatness is about striving toward the impossible and occasionally really getting there. Our notion of just how far we can go as humans changes constantly. The only way you can raise the bar is by believing you can do what no one else can.

— ZK

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