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Stress Pandemic 16: The Illusion Of The Perfect


Issue 616

There is an irony in life and work which you will encounter in yourself and others. Let me describe it like this.

We all know we are not, and we all know that everyone else is not, but we still pretend sometimes that we are.

This matter that I am describing sets up a tension within you and between you and others. It is the fifth face of anger and it has its own name. Perfectionism. The irony in this word can be seen in the light of another very common phrase in the English language, “nobody’s perfect . . . “

I will analyze perfectionism in a moment but let me show you its connection to stress. The perfectionist has a tendency to expect no mistakes from him or herself and does not tolerate mistakes in others. When such mistakes arise (as they inevitably will) the perfectionist can get angry. It is this anger that generates the stress within and around.

If you have perfectionist tendencies (as I do) I am not advocating you lower your standards or change your desire to do things well. What I am advocating is you recognize perfectionism is ultimately an illusion. Let me illustrate.

First, although you may set, and even achieve, very high standards in your work you will not achieve these standards in every single part of your life. Perhaps you are a brilliant math teacher, but can you repair your car or build a building?

No one can achieve high standards in everything. We all have our foibles and failures. It’s just a fact.

Second, measuring the perfect is extremely difficult, perhaps impossible. When NASA creates a spacecraft everyone in the project must aim for full-proof systems, especially when astronauts lives depend on their work. Yet technology is an evolving discipline throwing up new challenges and revealing unexpected surprises such that failures, and sadly accidents, occur. So, what was perfect is no longer in the light of new information. The scale changes.

“Accidents will happen”; “Nobody’s perfect”; “Human error”; are immoveable facts of life and anyone who thinks perfectionism is the irresistible force will live with frustration and anger and stress. So, the whole project of trying to measure what is perfect is itself doomed to failure.

Thirdly, life and work is messy. This flies in the face of the perfectionist and will not go away.

“If we say we have no sin” wrote Jesus’ close friend John, “we deceive ourselves and the truth is not within us”.

Perfectionism is illusion because of the reality of failure and mess that is within us.

Work well today,

Geoff Shattock

© Geoff Shattock  June 2019


1 John 1:8-10

8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

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Series: Stress Pandemic
Module: 1
Daily Guide: No


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Geoff Shattock

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