Can we pinpoint the moment we collectively gave up on improvement and declared that perfection is not only within reach, but relies solely on the whim of our own feelings?
We’ve always known, of course, that perfection in a factual sense is impossible. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t throw out, “Hey nobody’s perfect!” to excuse some insult or misstep of my own.
Yet instead of adopting a ‘shoot for the moon and even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars’ mentality, we’ve simply (read: lazily) redefined the word ‘perfect’ to mean something that’s not only achievable, it’s practically spoon-fed to us.
“You’re perfect just the way you are.”
The problem with chasing perfection lies in its difficulty. How incredibly painful to chase after the impossible, when the result is likely a viral-video-style failure. (Search: “Fail” on YouTube. Apologies in advance for consuming your afternoon.) So to avoid the pain, we sacrifice improvement for comfort. We tell ourselves perfection has arrived.
We sacrifice reality to live inside a comfortable illusion.
For most of human history, comfort was a foreign concept. Thomas Hobbes called life “nasty, brutish and short.” Basically you put in a lot of effort, or you died.
But now, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends at least 5 hours a day doing whatever they want. In fact, I can almost guarantee that somewhere in this country there are people who never have to leave their homes. If they have a work-from-home job, order groceries online and have them delivered (along with all their other necessities) then, boom:
They never have to wear pants again.
But humans aren’t meant to be static creatures. We’re not satisfied if we’re not improving. We’re the most successful species on the planet, and we didn’t get there through complacency.
So our generation runs into a problem: We’ve got all this time to waste and it’s oh-so comfortable to waste it. But, we tend to feel a guilty nagging when we do. Maybe it’s caused by the Facebook post of a friend who’s having their umpteenth child or buying a vacation condo in France. Sometimes it’s a rude remark we hear about our own imperfections that hits too close to home. Whatever brings it on, eventually we will feel the nag.
Something tugs at us and tells us we should get up, we should try, we should improve.
Something makes us feel guilty.
You can’t ignore that feeling, it’ll just keep coming back. There are only 2 ways to make it go away:
- One: Go out and fail. Fail a lot and fail miserably in the name of self-improvement and progress. Maybe succeed a little; but skin all the knees, cry all the tears, and suffer all the growing pains. Chase the impossible.
- Two: Bury it. Take that nagging sense to become better and smother it with the comforting pillow-shaped-lie that ‘you’re perfect the way you are.’ Smother until that nagging feeling stops kicking.
Given that the internet lends itself to a reactionary, ‘don’t tell me what to do’ attitude, it’s no surprise that option two often wins out. When someone, rightly or not, points out a flaw – it is much more satisfying to hate the haters and declare yourself the embodiment of perfection.
What a waste! Never before has a generation had such a capacity to work wonders. Issac Newton – 340 years ago – said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” How much further can we see now? Why would we squander that by declaring self-perfection and then giving up?
“I’m perfect just the way I am.”
How incredibly, insufferably boring. Can you really fit that much excitement and variety into your life once you’ve crowded out the possibilities of failure, growth or change?
Instead of tying happiness and self-worth to perfection, anchor it instead to your direction. The anguish of failure diminishes when, at the end of the day, you’re proud of the path you’re on.
Be happy. Be the kind of person you can love. But never be satisfied.
Leave behind a shoulder for someone else to stand on.