An Ode to Imperfection

What is perfection? Other than rather difficult word to describe?

I came across this definition: “the action or process of improving something until it is faultless”.

Interesting! OK, so what is ‘faultless’?

I recently ordered a pizza online. A message popped up on the website that said, “your pizza is being baked to perfection”.

A ‘perfect’ pizza…how exciting!

Yes, it turned out to be a pretty bold claim. It wasn’t terrible, but it certainly wasn’t ‘faultless’. Perhaps a little underdone to my taste. I did however, really enjoy eating it. Very tasty.

It was a reminder that we don’t all interpret our experience of the world in quite the same way. And that the only truly ‘faultless’ pizza is one that doesn’t exist. And I much preferred to eat a slightly faulty one that DID exist.

Maybe that’s one the problems with conversations about ‘perfection’.

One person’s favourite is another person’s yucky. The aspect that makes something beautiful to one person is the thing that makes it undesirable to someone else.

We all have different definitions of ‘perfection’ when we say ‘it was perfect’. My perfect day might be your ideal of a boring nightmare, and vice versa.

‘Perfectionism’ is not about achieving a tangible outcome. It’s an attachment to dissatisfaction in the face of our outcomes.

Perfectionism is not simply a desire for high standards and top quality results. It is always in pursuit of satisfaction but can never be satisfied. No matter how good it gets, it will never do quite enough.

Despite appearances, perfectionism is not about producing quality. It’s about the relationship we have with our belief in the idea of ‘faultless’. Perfection is like a black hole. It’s a void, made conspicuous by its lack of definition.

We all know the void. The lack. The deep awareness that something is missing. And we all have different relationships with it.

We do many things to cope with and respond to it. This has given rise to all kinds of amazing innovation and art over the years. It’s why we’ve not all agreed on the ‘perfect’ song, the ‘perfect’ novel, or the ‘perfect’ painting, and decided we can finally stop creating things now.

It’s why in sport, no matter how final a final is made to feel by the hype surrounding it, there will always be another one. The sport is un-winnable at the ultimate level, it goes on even after the greatest of all time can no longer play.

In many ways, this sense of what is missing is the fuel tank that moves us, connects us, and gives life its meaning. It’s the thing into which we throw our passion, our care, our love, our energy, our time, our fear, our joy, our pain, our delight, our confusion, our longing.

We all know it. We all feel it. But the one thing we none of us can ever do is fill it. We can’t eliminate it.

And yet this is exactly what perfectionism tells us we CAN do. It promises that we can earn our way to the impossible utopia (lasting satisfaction, completeness, and acceptance), just as long as we don’t make any mistakes. It has us believe that we can be happy once we find the perfect partner, the perfect house, the perfect car, the perfect job, the perfect computer, the perfect child, the perfect vacation, the perfect Christmas, the perfect wedding etc.

As far as I’m concerned, perfectionism can ‘do one!’ Its promise doesn’t even sound that good.

It’s completely rubbish compared with the price we have to pay for it. I mean, all the things that give life a sense of meaning and make it worth waking up for – passion, love, compassion, pastimes, risk, uncertain outcomes, art experiences, story, overcoming the odds…are all fundamentally at odds with the certainty, control, and safety that perfectionism promises if we do things in the way we are ‘supposed to’.

What’s more, the most meaningful and lasting stories/memories I have are intrinsically tied to when things went wrong. Why? Because they were times when I connected with other people. We cried together, laughed together, and shared a moment of timeless understanding…that the clumsy imperfection of ordinary life is what gives rise to true beauty.

I wrote an imperfect poem thing as a response to my reflections around this theme. I recorded it and turned it into a short video. It’s an ode to imperfection, in all its vulgarity.

I hope it speaks to you in some way…

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