9 Jul 2015

Imperfect Perfection

The concept of perfection seems pretty stretched to me over the years.

There isn't just technical perfection, i.e. absolutely no deviation from the highest standard. That's become a bland definition. And it's usually unobtainable in reality. Errors creep in, whether through carelessness or chance. A circle, no matter how round you draw it, won't be a geometrically perfect circle.

There is also branded perfection, or as I might call it, Perfection™. This is the kind of perfection that gets perpetuated in commercials. The Perfect™ drink. The Perfect™ eyeliner. The Perfect™ shaver. This product or service must surely be the best there is, because the apparent expert approved of its quality, and it comes with slick presentation. Also it's enhanced with special personal techniques or technology that sounds impressive, even if you don't know what they mean.

Closely associated is societal perfection. You are only considered to have led the perfect life when you pick one of a few stereotypical roles and check all the boxes fitting that role. Be that guru who gained enlightenment in the middle of his/her former lifestyle entrenched in toxic bland routine and great misfortune, and is now changing lives through seminars or private consultations. Or be that philanthropist who fought tooth and nail to climb out of poverty and build a multi-billion empire, using half of your fortune to save families who suffered similar financial straits. Or be that former lawyer who took a huge gamble to pursue his/her dream of singer stardom, facing hardship and stigma along the arduous journey before finally tasting huge breakout success and encouraging fans to also flesh out their aspirations.

But is it really meaningful chasing any kind of perfection?

I'm still for shooting at suitably high goals. It's often unhealthy to stay in a state of mediocrity. It's also often boring to stay in a heavily stable state, even if that state is way above average. But "perfection" has been thrown around so much to stand for varying sets of criteria, some clashing with each other. Personal aspirations aren't universally consistent. At this point, "perfection" is losing power in meaning.

The best we can do is comparison of states. It can be easier - perhaps more effective - to measure how much you have changed over a fixed period of time, than to see whether you've reached your aspired state. Loads of motivational books or talks touch on making measurable goals, and there is truth in that. Like not saying "I want to be rich", but saying "I want to save up $X in time Y", and constantly monitor how far you are from X and Y. It's not necessarily a "perfect" final state: your figures of X or Y or whatever measurable variables just have to represent a good improvement. Heck, it's not a final state either: your target goal will have to keep shifting up and up, or you get stuck at a plateau.

You can set a general positive direction to steer yourself towards, without knowing what the ultimate "perfect" state is. You can still follow a trail of many intermediate goals. Better than trying to shoot straight for where you believe the "perfect" destination is, and end up missing it drastically with no point of return.

So don't obsessively chase for a Perfect™ life. Go for the imperfect life you want to live.