Key Takeaway: It is dangerous to focus on perfection or to be perfectionist – dangerous to our health, to our growth, and even to our faith. Perfectionism is different from excellence, the latter of which is what we should strive for – and the key to that is moderation.
As we kick off yet another weekend, I’d like to top off the week’s posts with a “synthesis” of several others I posted prior.
Last Wednesday, I wrote about the dangers of over-cleaning – be it through using antibacterial agents too much, or by being too perfectionist in cleaning. Last night, I featured Soap Draining Trays, which semi-automatically does the cleaning job for you by clearing away what definitely should be rinsed off (i.e. the bacteria-friendly soapy water residue that accumulates at the bottom of soap dishes and dishwashing racks).
I was once able to read an Archie story in The Best of Archie Comics – Book Four. The 2000 story, Mission Nutrition, came from Jughead #127, where a new character named Googie Gilmore, a healthy eating campaigner, eventually learns from wise ol’ Jughead that the key is moderation. Jughead does eat so-called healthy foods, but moderates his diet by eating a balanced one that also contains some junk food. Googie is convinced.
I know some people who take some of their good traits to the extreme. I have a couple of friends, for example, who are perfectionist neat freaks who cannot take anything below their standards. They will continually push others – and themselves – to reach said standards, be it in tidying up, plastic-wrapping new books, or in filing household documents.
In another case, I have a friend who is so meticulous in analyzing things that it has become his way of life – especially when it comes to shopping. He takes “smart consumerism” to the next level – sometimes out of place. He asks so much questions and is so intent on scrutinizing every last detail of a product that, when the rest of us have finished, he still isn’t.
And yet another anecdote – I have a friend who takes his health so seriously that he unconditionally and unabashedly sticks to his food intolerance report, refuses to eat any junk foods, and is obsessed with staying slim and increasing his already-high metabolic rate to the ideal one as calculated in his gym. They also check in the ER even for minor – although long-running, admittedly – illnesses, since their medical insurance means they don’t pay a cent for it anyway.
These are all good traits that every observer of personal CSR should have. What isn’t good in them, however, is that these people I know end up being too perfectionist and meticulous about said traits, to the point that they stress themselves out and fail to enjoy life at times.
In our university, which is a Jesuit institution, we are taught to strive for excellence, not perfection (based from Philippians 4:8). We can never be perfect here on earth, for only God is perfect; if we were perfect we would be in heaven already. Unfortunately, it’s not difficult to mix the two together, and we end up missing the whole point.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to be perfect is to “[have] all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be”. This means that even just one minor element, quality, or characteristic out of place renders it imperfect. For perfectionists – and I can relate, because I used to be one – this is an abomination, and they will not rest until said element, quality, or characteristic has been fixed. But to be excellent is simply to be “extremely good [or] outstanding”. It does not say anything about having all required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics, nor does it say anything about being as good as good can be.
I used to be a grade-conscious perfectionist, meaning that I would be unhappy with anything below 100.00. It took its toll on me, I was very stressed out, and very upset when I didn’t get my desired results. Unfortunately, along the way – and this is best seen in my now-deteriorating grasp on the Mandarin Chinese language – I failed to realize the value of why I was carrying out my responsibilities. Having focused too much on the form or structure, I failed to appreciate the substance or content – the value of what I was learning. Had I known that I should strive for excellence rather than grades – which, thankfully, I quite belatedly (but better late than never) learned only towards the latter part of college – I would have not worried about the grades I got, but rather on whether or not I understood what I was learning. Because if you do understand it, and apply it well, you’ll get the grade as well.
My book mentor for life, Simple Living for Teens, teaches the same. When we focus too much on trying to become perfect, we are the ones who end up at a loss, because that marginal increment between excellence and perfection isn’t worth all the effort and energy expended: We tend to suffer problems both physical and psychological as we let stress take its toll on our bodies and minds. We can get depressed, anxious, and even sick from letting our immune systems wear down. Furthermore, focusing too much on getting it perfect prevents us from focusing on our goal (which, for us Christians, is to do God’s work given to us). This can in fact be a form of idolatry: we forget to put our faith and trust in God, and believe that we are capable of anything and everything, and that we do not need to rely on others. That immediately breaks the First Commandment.
Sure, some things need to be precise and accurate, especially in accounting. But to let that mentality take over your entire life is too much. We need to strive for excellence but keep it in perspective. Hence, moderation.
The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “the avoidance of excess or extremes, especially in one’s behaviour or political opinions”. It does not say that we are not to strive for an outstanding quality – only that we are not to strive for the extreme. Moderation and excellence, therefore, go hand-in-hand, because in learning to moderate well, you actually learn to become excellent by allowing yourself to draw from the experience what is necessary and important for you to grow. At the same time, you are able to simplify your life and maximize your time in a better way to do more things. Since you should do those things in an excellent but not perfect manner also, it fits easily into the puzzle. Therefore, your output as a person increases in quantity without suffering in quality.
As we take the time to relax this weekend (or not), I invite you to reflect on the things you have been perfectionist on, and to practice moderation to bring them to the level of excellence instead, also trusting in your God that He will take care of the rest. It is He who will make it perfect, not us.