Perfectionism: it’s what’s for breakfast

I saw a quote recently that turned me on:

“No matter your profession, perfection isn’t achievable. Just look at The Beatles. They would leave flaws in their early recordings – like Paul’s voice cracking of John singing the wrong word – but those things made the end result magical. When today’s Auto-Tuned artists aim to be perfect, their songs lack that same richness. Pressuring employees to be perfect leads them to take desperate measures and cut corners. And it breeds mediocrity. If there’s an intolerance for accepting differences and flaws – and different ways of seeing, feeling, and operating – it suffocates the potential for innovation and creativity.”

– Marc Schoen, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist

Now, don’t get all huffy and think I completely agree with this quote.

Perfection in art is one thing. Perfection in engineering, another. 

Paul McCartney singing imperfectly is one thing. I’m pretty sure you don’t want corners cut when Boeing builds the airplane you take with your 18 children and lesbian wife. Nor do you want something less than perfection when you’re eating that Monsanto sandwich.

But that quote above validates a particular perspective that I took on religion. It’s certainly a personal position, and I would never say that anyone else was mediocre. “Lacking” or “Deficient,” maybe, but not “mediocre.”

My take on the faith I was taught was that Yeshua expected perfection. Anything short of that was unacceptable.

This was a disaster with my personality. It’s one thing to “sin” as a kid. Lying and stealing. Cheating. Those things are whatever. Trifles. You can maintain a relationship with a friend who is in your mind easily when the biggest threat is a grounding. But once you’re an adult, consequences mean more than a spanking. And shit gets real.

I joined an accountability group with the popular Christian guys in college during my junior year. And while I struggled with fear of damnation from sexual struggles that I never talked about in accountability sessions, these guys were fucking perfect.

Their struggles were praying for 10 minutes instead of an hour. Oooooooo. Or inefficient bible studies. “I wanted to read Isaiah for an hour, but I fell asleep … woe is me!” These weren’t struggles. These were doucheries.

At the end of each session, we prayed for each other. You’d be surprised how big of a competition it becomes to out-pray your accountability partners … you know, get poetic and all with a delivery of “forgive us for not praying long enough, oh father.”

These sessions in college were some of my last efforts to woo back the imaginary idea I had for “god.” I stopped going to church with any regularity my Freshman year.

The most difficult thing about leaving the faith was the assault it had on perfectionism. I wanted to be a perfect son, student, believer, boyfriend, adult, soccer player, actor, designer, photographer.

At some point, perfection became a reflection of the lines above: “it suffocated the potential for innovation and creativity.”

If there is an intolerance to differences — as the man says above — we set our expectations way out of reach.

Not everything has to be perfect. Sometimes things have to be imperfect to reflect reality.

We received a Patagonia catalog this week in the mail. I was pleasantly surprised by one photo of a woman walking up a path with a surfboard. Natural light tends to accentuate parts of our skin that are unflattering, and this woman wasn’t flattered by her light.

I would have smoothed it a little. But it was the absence of “perfection” that stopped me. Or a picture of a guy holding up a scorpion at the end of a piece of metal. His cuticles looked like hell, all dry and a bit bloody.

But the outdoors-types don’t have perfect nails.

A photo of a guy sitting by the campfire, drinking coffee in what looked like a morning scene … he looked tired. Like he just woke up from a rough night sleeping on the ground.

Or this week, I published photos of a puppy in which I purposely cut corners. There was a black background, and I didn’t touch it up to be pure black, a no-no of sorts. A sin against almighty gods of photography.

There were gradients of a background, rim light that I wanted oozing through the blacks, though, and I wanted a sort of imperfection. The dog was so damn cute, and I don’t want to present perfection in animals.

Some of my religion teachers tried coming from the perspective that the bible is attractive because its characters reflected reality. They were flawed, making it more dynamic. Salvation through imperfection.

My brain could never wrap around the commandments for perfection while maintaining that its heros were imperfect. Or that Yeshua was perfect, with all his imperfections.

So I retired all that, so I could let imperfections reflect reality.

And I slept. I dreamed. I awoke.


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