The Quest for Perfection

You all know that I’m a recovering perfectionist. I’m proud of the progress I’ve made but like with any other addictive tendencies, it’s a tendency that never completely goes away.

Did I really say addictive?

Let’s face it. There’s something rewarding and dysfunctional in the belief that we can have or have achieved perfection. Creating perfection is delusional at best, yet we love to bask in the fantasy that perfection is within reach.

The challenge of creating that balance between wanting to improve versus feeling bad or inadequate becomes strikingly clear to me when I play the piano. I love the meditative, creative and generative aspects of playing an instrument. Even though I’m not a huge music fan, I also enjoy creating something melodious and hearing the beautiful tone of the keys.

Yet when I practice, it starts as a fun discovery of learning what I can still manage to play and the sounds I can create.   Eventually I get bored with that (unfortunately, a common theme for me) and so I may instead attempt the futility of perfecting how I play a piece. If I could find just the right tempo, key stroke, loudness and expression, I keep saying to myself, I can really enjoy it.

In reality, if I were able to achieve perfection, I likely cannot reproduce that perfection a second time and anything less will feel like a disappointment. If I could reproduce it, I would quickly get bored because now it lacks challenge.

Yes. That’s the delusion of perfectionism, the belief that I will be satisfied and happy when…. The truth is I’ve created a lose:lose scenario instead of enjoying the activity for its own sake.

One of the most profound lessons I’ve learned from Dad is that it’s about the journey, not the destination.  The journey itself is the source of satisfaction and joy. The fact that I have to learn that lesson repeatedly speaks to my tendency to focus on the endpoint as an excuse to not enjoying the now.

The piano teaches me that I am choosing to create frustration and dissatisfaction in both the journey and endpoint. Rather, I should play for the sake of creativity and human expression, and viewing mistakes as opportunities for discovery.  Impressionism, jazz, youngest children, and serendipity could all be considered mistakes that turned into something fantastic.   Embrace the mistakes, the noise, the messiness, the deviations as opportunities to break free from our rigid sense of right/wrong and perfection.

“Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.”

― Leonard Cohen

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