Exorcising the disease of “perfection” – by Terry Howard

How about a show of hands from those of you out there who consider yourselves perfect?

Humm, not a single hand went up. Maybe you didn’t hear me right, so I’ll cuff my ears, kick the volume up, italicize, capitalize and repeat the question; HOW ABOUT A SHOW OF HANDS FROM THOSE OF YOU WHO CONSIDER YOURSELVES PERFECT?


Still no hands. Which suits me just fine because your no show of hands makes a strong case for my main point … nobody’s perfect!

Now while you may be wondering if I’ve gone bonkers, forgotten to take my medication – or maybe both – I’ll pause and say this: I’m all for perfection in the practice of medicine, making airplanes safe and in other areas. And my guess is that so are you. But I’m not for any expectation of perfection in people. That’s impossible, a recipe for stress and high blood pressure, a prescription for drug abuse, domestic violence, troubled teenagers, suicide and divorce.

Okay, why on Earth am I ranting about “perfection” of all things? How blasphemous of me to suggest anything short of perfection in people, you may also ask. Well, my answers lie in some recent self-debasing comments that came my way:

• “Hey, what do I know? I’m just an old forty-something-year-old, graying fat woman.”
• “English is not my first language, so I realize that my communication is so very bad.”
• “I’ve been here 12 years and still have not been promoted. I feel like a failure.”

And then came a post from a Canadian friend written by Dan Pearce:

“There’s a serious pandemic of ‘Perfection’ spreading, and it needs to stop. It is a sickness that I’ve been trying to put into words for years without much success. It is a sickness that I’ve personally struggled with. It is a sickness that at times has left me in dark corners and hating myself. ‘Perfection’ infects every corner of society. It infects our schools. It infects our neighborhoods. It infects our workplaces. We live in communities where people feel unconquerable amounts of pressure to always appear perfectly happy, perfectly functional and perfectly figured. ‘Perfect’ is a hideous monster with a really beautiful face.”

Pearce lists the following examples from experiences in his personal life, from confidential sources and from his circle of friends and loved ones. The disease for “perfection” is…

… a daughter with an eating disorder who keeps it hidden for years because she doesn’t want to be the first among her family and friends to be imperfect. She would give anything to confront it, but she can’t because “perfect” people would hate her as much as she hates herself for it.

… a couple drowning in debt, but will still agree to that cruise with their friends because the words, “we don’t have the money” are impossible ones to push across their lips.

… a child hating herself because the boys at school call her fat and when she goes home she tells her mom that school was fine.

… a wife who feels trapped in a marriage to a lazy, angry, small man but at soccer practice tells the other wives how wonderful her husband always is.

… a man who everyone heralds as perfect, but inside he’s screaming to be seen as the faulty human being that he knows he always has been.

… a dad hating himself because he can’t give his kids what other dads do, and then hating himself further because he takes his self-loathing out on his kids behind closed doors.

… a man who loathes himself for feeling unwanted attraction to other men.

… a high school senior hating himself for letting his parents down by not getting into a select college

… a mom hating herself because she sees others as the perfect mother, the perfect wife.

So how do we exorcise the demon of “perfection?” Advises Pearce: “Be real. Embrace that you have weaknesses. Everyone does. Embrace that you have things about you that you cannot control.”

Here’s a list of “You’re not the only one” thoughts that could help free you from the trappings of the disease to please. You are not the only one who…

… fears public speaking or putting things in writing because you may not speak “perfect” English.

… has questions about your religion.

… stares in the mirror and hates some aspect of your body.

… pretends that you’re in a job or have a boss you like.

… has a troubled child who has not lived up to his/her full potential.

So just how do we exorcise ourselves from the demon of “perfection?”

My suggestion is that we go eyeball to eyeball with the face in the mirror and say to him/her: “Enough is enough. The days of my trying to live up to someone else’s definition of ‘perfection’ are behind me, henceforth and forevermore. I’m me, I’m free and I’m unabashedly proud of my every strand of gray, ounce of fat, “broken” but beautiful accent, age, belief or nonbelief, disability, profession of choice and educational background. I have weaknesses, I’m not perfect, never have been, never will be, and won’t destroy myself trying to be.

And I’m going to take – no, excuse me, rip – off the shackles of the disease to please that I may have put on my offspring, peers and others so that they can join me in being themselves, all they can be in a world made up entirely of imperfect people.

So I’ll end with this question: How many of you out there consider yourselves “imperfect” people?

Wow, great, thanks, all of you raised your hands.

Welcome to the ranks of the majority.

Terry Howard

© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer, trainer and story teller. He is a senior associate at Diversity Wealth, a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Atlanta Business Journal, The Huffington Post and New York-based Catalyst. He can be reached at wwhoward3@gmail.com.

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