What is perfection? ‘Condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects’ is the basic definition. And yet, society has blown it into an abstract, colossal, and sometimes contradictory concept. It is sought by many, but rarely found. Some people search for the situation, person, or place that lacks defects or drawbacks, yet others find perfection in a collection of flaws (the Zen approach). Some claim perfection is just around the corner, while others insist it does not exist in any form whatsoever.
The Myth of Perfection?
‘Perfection doesn’t exist’ is a common declaration of gurus of self improvement and vague inspirational quotes on Facebook. Stephen Hawking took that declaration to an intergalactic scale when he stated, “One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist.” In a purely technical sense, everything has drawbacks. Beautiful beaches are prone to hurricanes. Beautiful northern forests and mountains pimpslap newcomers with nightmarish winters. Momentum is lost to friction. Our own bodies, one of the most incredible systems produced by the biological game of bumper cars that is evolution, eventually succumb to aging and deconstruct even the most prime physical specimens.
One person’s definition of perfect is different from another’s, just ask a group of guys to describe their idea of a woman that is a ‘perfect 10’. You’ll get redheads, blondes, brunettes, Asians, African Americans, size 2’s, size 12’s, cheerleaders, nerds, human, furry, and underage anime waifu. Discussion of the ‘perfect film’ leads to warring factions of Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick circlejerks (the correct answer is Fight Club, duh). Posing the question of the ‘perfect’ video game online is a volatile action known to level city blocks.
Sure, perfection can occur in very isolated settings and systems. You can rack up the perfect score of 3,333,360 in Pac-Man. You can meticulously breed a 31 in the IVs of every Pokémon on your VGC team. You can roll a natural 20 on a deception check and successfully seduce the demon queen and have hot Infernal nookie. These are strictly defined systems with minimal outside influence.
Real life has infinitely more variables and forces at play, and our dear friend Murphy and his Law are eager to throw a monkey wrench strapped with C4 charges into your plans. A coworker calls in sick which forces you to work a double shift and ruin your cool Friday plans. Brexit causes a spike in the value of the Yen and shakes up Japanese stock markets like a limey Godzilla. A six-mile wide asteroid strikes your planet out of nowhere and ruins the 100 million year dominance your clade held.
In short, perfection not only doesn’t exist, it can’t exist.
And that’s perfect.
A Glitch in the System
What exactly was that last statement supposed to mean? Was it a message of self contentment, to stop striving, abandon the rat race, and cease looking for that greener grass on the other side? The fact that perfection is unknowable and unattainable is not something that should dissuade, but something to motivate you. When the end of the journey can never be truly reached, you never cease to move forward.
As principle #6 of the Way of the Spiral states, never stop advancing and evolving. Progression inherently implies movement. An ideal gleaming on a distant horizon keeps us moving forward, rather than stopping and plopping down because hey, perfection is unreachable. Those sultry biceps and abs of Marvel cinematic superheroes may be a completely unrealistic goal for men who do not have the time to spend four hours in the gym each day under the watchful eye of famous trainers, but they’re a prime motivator to do one more rep or add an extra ten pounds to that deadlift.
It is important to understand though this isn’t an invitation to an endless cycle of envy and lamenting the things we lack. Recognize and acknowledge the progress you have made in pursuit of your goal. Seizing dreams may be a motivator for moving forward, but gratitude creates a sturdy foundation to walk (or run!) on. Appreciation of the skills, possessions, and experiences we have reinforces confidence in our abilities to accomplish our goals.
Make it Happen
Now that you’ve been presented with the paradox, you may be wondering how you can make it work for you. I presented you with a literal no-win situation (Happy 50th birthday, Star Trek!) and declared lack of victory is the point. Here are a few simple steps to find endless possibilities in an impossibility.
First, you must free yourself from the fear of imperfection. As Salvador Dali famously proclaimed, “Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.” To a dedicated perfectionist, this sounds like a nightmarish outcome. Take an inventory of the things in your life you feel compelled to be ‘perfect’ in. It can be appearance, a hobby, fitness, sports, or whatever else. One by one, acknowledge your shortcomings, in detail if you wish, and state that while you may not be the best, there is much to learn and accomplish.
Next, acknowledge your progress and accomplishments despite the shortcomings. Celebrate weight lost even if you’re far from your ‘ideal’ look. Relish the improved time on your Super Metroid speedrun despite being far from the world record. Revel in your new cosplay looking a little better than the last even if you feel like you’re light-years away from the best (like my friend Jackie Craft!). As said before, practice some gratitude.
Finally, gaze into the wild world of the things you have yet to accomplish. One of the benefits of perfection’s nonexistence is that there is always something new to discover or achieve. There is empowerment in exploration, like stretch goals in the Kickstarter of real life. There are new techniques to learn. There are unknown rivals to face. There are new goals to set. Hell, maybe along the way you’ll discover something no one else has and you’ll advance the field for everyone, not just yourself.
A Paradoxical Paragon
A journey with no true destination is a journey that will never end. Some ideal state of being or existence does not or cannot exist in the chaotic cosmological brane our world exists in. So don’t beat yourself up for not being able to reach some state of transcendent faultlessness, but don’t take it as an excuse to slack off either. Know that perfection can never be reached, and work towards it anyway.