The Infinite Search for Perfection

Imagine hosting a wedding party with 200+ people and trying to make every single guest happy, expecting that at the end of the party, everyone will say only great things about it. Impossible, right? 

In today’s world of consumerism and comparison with others, it is so easy to fall into the ‘perfectionism trap.’ Sure, you can always have more and be more: money, a bigger house, the latest iPhone, or a Tesla. You could also be more productive and climb the corporate ladder into the next big job every 18 months – why wait three years? 

It never ends. For those seeking perfectionism, the inner stories will always be about “something missing” or “needing to be better at this or that.” It will never satisfy you, even if you achieve it, as you will keep looking for more and more. 

“I need to…”, “I should have done this…” are also variations of the inner voice of perfectionism. It is an all too common voice nowadays that has also led to unbelievable pain for those who live by it. 

Thinking about people I know who are trapped by perfectionism, I would say all of them are “successful.” They have great careers, and everyone around them thinks their life is the dream one should pursue. However, the constant narrative of “something is missing” makes it impossible for them to celebrate their accomplishments, experience joy, and just live in the present moment. As predicted, they keep looking for more to fill the ‘gaps’ they feel are howling at them. 

3 illusions that attract each other 

The illusion of perfection also walks hand in hand with two other illusions: happiness and productivity. The search for a perfect, happy, and productive life is the goal for millions of people today. It is a product of this hyper-competitive and consumerist world where a person’s value is translated into how much money and success he or she has (or appears to have). 

Illusions like those seem so “natural” that those who dare challenge them are labeled as crazy, naïve, liberals, and so on. 

But if we stop for a moment, we will notice how blind and immensely constrained we are when we embrace happiness, productivity, and perfectionism as a “way of life.” 

A few years ago, I was with my daughter at the swimming pool in the condo where we lived in New Jersey. Another child came in and started to play with my daughter. They seemed to be the same age, about four-years-old. It didn’t take long before I began to talk with the boy’s mom. With her being Indian and me a Brazilian, we quickly jumped into a conversation about cultural differences between our countries and the United States. 

I was curious to learn more about Indian culture. As we spoke, the woman mentioned how mad she was at her husband. “He keeps putting pressure on our five-year-old boy and says that he needs to study very hard because he must be admitted to Princeton University.” I was shocked. How can a father start putting pressure on his young child like this? 

Can you imagine what this child will learn about the meaning of “being a good person”? His entire value as an individual will be limited to his academic performance. And he will most likely follow the steps of a “successful” life: study at one of the best universities in the world, join a large company, make money, buy stuff and sell the same lifestyle to his kids until, one day, he will ask himself, “what have I done with my life? Why am I so “successful” but I feel so miserable? 

Daniel Santos MBA, ACC, is a PRA partner coach and author of the book COHERENCE: A Practical Guide For Self-Development. This passage is an excerpt from his book and has been shared with permission.

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