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Perfection Is Just An Illusion

Updated: Dec 30, 2022

Hello beautiful humans!

Can anything ever be truly perfect? To be perfect something (or someone) is being identified as not needing any improvement. There are no defects, no errors, no flaws or mistakes. Is that ever true?

In The Eye Of The Beholder

My mother is an artist. Although a stroke has diminished some of her skills, her art continues to fascinate and inspire me. I was lucky enough to inherit many of those skills myself, (more on that later). As a kid there were two pieces of her art work that I absolutely loved. One was a very large painting of the Grand Canyon with storm clouds rolling through it and the other was of Native American warriors on horse back and charging into battle. They were amazing pieces and in my eyes I would never be able to achieve that caliber of work. They were perfection!

Fast forward a few years... I had entered an art contest and had painted a mountain lake scene. I knew it wasn't perfect, but parts of it were. I was enamored that I had been able to capture the reflections in the water and softness of the clouds. I had put a great deal of time and detail into the trees and was truly proud of my work. I won the competition and when I went to get my ribbon I noticed that my painting had been changed. Covering up much of the reflection and several of the trees that I was quite proud of was a big oak tree full of brightly colored yellow and orange leaves.

What happened to my painting?

My mother told me it was missing something so she added the tree to make it better and look I won the ribbon because now it was perfectly balanced. It wasn't perfect though, not to me! It was ruined because it was no longer mine. I felt like a failure! I had tried so hard to make the painting perfect. I didn't feel like I deserved that ribbon and I refused to accept it.

What was perfect in her eyes was far from perfect in mine and apparently vice versa. Where I saw perfection in the techniques I had used, she saw perfection in the balance of color and symmetry. Because our perceptions of perfection are different, one version of perfection negates the other. We can't both be right? Can we?

Well, yes, we both can be right, in our own opinion. If this is true though, then to her my opinion is flawed and to me, hers is flawed. Remember up at the top of this article.... perfection is having no flaws. Therefore, the painting was not perfect.

Invisible Mistakes

Ok, so we know that perception and opinions can change how we view perfection, but what about the mistakes and errors that we don't see?

As I mentioned, my mother had two paintings that I considered perfect. A few years ago I mentioned the Grand Canyon painting and how I felt it was one of her best pieces. My mom laughed and said she hated that painting. I asked her why and this is what she said: "It wasn't suppose to have storm clouds in it. I tried for weeks to get the canyon just right and when I was finally close to what I wanted, I dropped my brush loaded with paint and it fell against the canvas and ruined half the painting. I was so frustrated I smeared the paint together and painted storm clouds over it to try and hide it. It still showed through a little."

I was in shock! All this time I had thought the storm clouds were an intentional addition. Now I find out that what I thought was perfection was a desperate attempt to hide a mistake. As you know, if there's a mistake, then it can't be perfect.

What Does It All Mean

It means that because of things like perception and the unknowns, perfection cannot exist. It's an illusion perpetuated by us to push us into doing the best we can. The problem is that too many people believe they can achieve the unattainable goal. It opens them up to stress, anxiety and failure.

Think of all the places you've eaten a hamburger. Now rate them on a scale from 0 being the worst ever and the 10 being the best, melt in your mouth, send you into euphoria, dreamiest of burgers ever. Would you rate any of them as a perfect 10? Let's say you do. This great little diner in the middle of nowhere has the perfect burger, or does it?

I mean, you do have to take time to get there, right? Wouldn't it be better if it was close by? Ok, so maybe it is close by. How much did it cost? Surely one of the other burgers were cheaper. How long did you have to wait for it? Are you sure the cook didn't drop it on the floor before plopping it in the pan? Was the bun fresh baked or day old? Was the cheese real or processed? There are numerous reasons why this burger may not be as perfect as you thought, right?

You could apply this same methodology to just about anything... or anyone. This doesn't even take into account that there may be another little restaurant somewhere else that makes an even better burger that you just haven't tried yet.

All The Possibilities

In The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle comes this quote: "When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbably, must be the truth." (cited below) The problem is... It is impossible to eliminate all the possibilities because all of the possibilities aren't known and will never be known. Since there are those unknown possibilities that exist we can never with 100% certainty say that there isn't something better. If there is the possibility that there is something better, then whatever we believe to be perfect can't be perfect. (Round and round we go!) A perfection paradox if you will.

Why Bother With Perfection

If it doesn't truly exist, then why do we try so hard to achieve it? It's like having a goal to reach for. In almost every facet of our lives we are pushed to do better. No matter how good we are, we can do better. Perfection is like the imaginary goal on our own life scale that pushes us to be the best. Those who choose to erroneously chase after the perfection illusion, however, usually find themselves stressed out, full of anxiety and nervousness, never satisfied and always wanting more.

So even if we think we've finally achieved perfection, we find that we've collected all this negative luggage that, once again, negates the perfection we think we've achieved. When we realize we haven't really achieved perfection at all, we think of ourselves as a failure.

Give Up On The Pursuit Of Perfection

What we need to be working towards is just simply being better than we were yesterday. When we can go to bed every night satisfied that we did our best in everything that we did for that day, then we've succeeded where perfection fails. We lose the inadequate feelings and the sense of defeat. Our minds and bodies are no longer full of the anxieties, negative emotions and other side effects of trying to attain the unattainable. By being and doing the best we can each day, we are able to enjoy growing to our potential because we know we can accomplish that goal.

Morals of the Story:

  1. Perfection is an unattainable illusion that doesn't really exist

  2. The pursuit of perfection causes negative reactions in our body

  3. Striving to be better each day is a positive shift from the illusion

  4. Doing better each day is an achievable goal


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