Is Striving For Perfection Good or Bad?

We are taught in school that getting a perfect mark on a test means that you are the best. So we read and study and rewrite our notes, make practice tests and study some more in the hope that we will achieve 100%. The Oscars of 5th grade. Any grade. Every grade.

In sports, scores count. Even in games with young kids where coaches are not keeping score, the kids are. There is only one winner. Even if you get second place out of hundreds of participants, it isn’t first.

The Primo. Numero Uno.

No-one remembers the person who broke the Olympic record – a feat to be celebrated and shouted from roof-tops – if the guy point-gazillion seconds in front of him just broke the World Record; he gets all the glory. Sure, the other one gets a silver medal, and even third place is rewarded but there was only one ‘winner’.

So is striving for perfection good or bad?

If there is only going to be one winner, should we put so much emphasis on trying?  

As Shawn Achor said in the video from my October 5th’s blog post: Bright-Side of the Web: Shawn Achor, if we teach to the average, how do you inspire achievement beyond that?

And what is perfection? Who determines the benchmark?

In individual sports, where athletes are racing against time, the benchmark will be who can complete the task the fastest. But with measurements coming down to multiple-split seconds, what if the deemed winner took off a multiple-split second ahead of the deemed second-place person? That, to me, seems too close to call. When you are that close, both are winners. Regardless, in those types of sports, you do get those individuals who truly are the best in the world – until that record too is broken.

But let’s go back to the classroom. Shawn Achor’s comment has really made go hmmm….

Children learn in different ways – visual, kinesthetic, auditory – and most teachers incorporate each method into their lessons to varying degrees.  So why do most schools test the majority of children using only one method – written? And why is it timed?

Does knowledge have a time limit? 

Some students panic under the pressure of time. If students were given unlimited (or at least extended) time to write a test, at some point they will have answered all of the questions that they could, as best they could and realize they were finished. I understand that schedules may not permit unlimited time for all tests, but many students with special learning needs are accommodated with such requirements, so why not offer it to all? Wouldn’t that truly test the child’s knowledge, not just how well he/she can think under pressure?

But let’s get back to the question at hand and look at perfection from both sides, beginning with the good:

Striving for perfection gives us a goal for which to reach.
There is a purpose for our endeavours.
We want to learn all we can about something.
Learn from our mistakes.
Be a better person.
Get stronger, faster.
Have the self-satisfaction that we have done our best.
Reach our own personal pinnacle.

But the dark-side of perfection can breed:
Self-loathing – never good enough
Comparisons to people with gifts with which we were not bestowed
Self-sabotage – why bother trying
Excuses not to try or finish – a pillar to hide behind

Perfection can be outright dangerous for some. Young girls striving, starving, to look like air-brushed models, who in their minds are perfect which equates to a perception of how they need to look in order to be popular and accepted, but due to genetics, body shape, lack of photo tricks, and the need for food for sustenance and overall health and development, will never look (in fact, not even the models look that way).

So, my conclusion, the one that sits right for me, is that perfection can be good or bad.

The value of perfection is dependent on your state of mind and in what regard you hold the meaning of perfection.

If perfection is wrapped in negativity and you hold it as some mark, either self-imposed or not, that you will never reach so why even bother trying, then it is certainly bad and you need to step back and re-examine its importance, or non-importance.

Or if perfection means that you are putting your health in danger to achieve the unattainable, that’s disdain-able.

However, if you use perfection as a point of reference that you set for yourself – a goal – to strive for betterment in your life; the pinnacle to which each step forward is carefully planned, and you are satisfied with the progress and don’t mind if you ever reach the summit, then perfection seems like a positive thing, and I’m all for that.

So, what say you? Is striving for perfection good or bad?  

2 responses to “Is Striving For Perfection Good or Bad?

  1. perhaps striving for EXCELLENCE would be a better goal? Perfection as a goal, for me, is usually just too daunting & paralyzes me from even trying. Keep up the thought provoking & Positive posts!

    • Very good point. Excellence seems much more attainable and less inhibiting, depending on your definition of Excellence. For some, ‘Excellence’ is equivalent to ‘Perfection’ – they will not be happy until they are the best in their field. However, if ‘Excellence’, defined as “the quality of being outstanding or extremely good”, equates in your mind as ‘the best that you can do’ and you are fulfilled by your efforts and achievements, then I agree whole-heartedly.
      Thanks for reading my posts! Much appreciated!