‘Perfect’ – a word that is perfect.
‘Perfect’ preens and struts on the catwalk of achievements with its self-importance. There is no room for flaws or anything less than perfect..
‘Perfect’ lends aura to things and makes them desirable.
The dictionary meaning of the word ‘perfect’ is to have all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; to make something as good as it can possibly be.
Perfect is making something free from defect
If indeed we used the meaning of the word ‘perfect’ in the sense of what it really means, that is great. But often we use the word, ‘perfect’ in the sense of complete and absolute. And then ‘Perfect’, becomes a sword hanging over your head.
The perfect job.
The perfect child.
The perfect life.
The perfect body.
The perfect guru even…
And we may look for these our whole lives, perhaps lifetimes and not find perfection.
Don’t get me wrong. We have a natural striving for excellence and doing our best. I am not asking you to lower your high standards and taste in the things that you use. In fact the drive for excellence, the drive to make something better is such a joy.
The drive to make a better vegatable pulao or the drive to curate pictures from your recent vacation or the drive to be more efficient to use your time for your life priorities are all wonderful. The drive to make things better including making the world better because of your presence, is much required. But perfection on the other hand is to heap a value of completeness, no defect and infallibility on a thing or a person which is never possible.
By extension, then what is a perfect job? A perfect job is in line with your priorities – It pays you a decent sum of money, the company has a more or less healthy work culture, the company offers you opportunities to grow professionally and make an impact. Great! It is associated with all the qualities you want and hence the job is perfect for you.
If you are looking for more growth opportunities and the job does not pay you as well as your peers in the industry but gives you opportunities to take leadership roles and contribute, then that job is perfect for you. Why? Because it has all the required qualities that you are looking for at this stage of life. But if you want to discover who you are through the perfect job, then you are expecting moksha which no job can give you.
Why? Because you expect that which is anitya, temporary with limitations to be nitya, eternal and flawless.
A perfect partner! – such a creature does not exist
If you want someone to love and be loved, have shared companionship through the journey of life and contribute to each other ‘s happiness while building a family and contributing to society, you have a perfect partner – in the sense of the term. But if you are looking for a lover, a healer who heals all your wounds, a guru, a friend, a parent, someone who meets all your needs in life, at all places, your baby, then in the name of perfection, you have set yourself up for heartache and disappointment.
Why? Because you expect that which is anitya, temporary with flaws to be nitya, eternal and flawless.
A perfect child – what is that?
One who does well academically, has a well-rounded personality with some interest in music and or sports, is well adjusted to his/her little world, is centred on Sanatana Dharma which equips him or her to navigate through life joyfully. What else? The list of parents will go on and on. It is not wrong to want the best for one’s child. But to expect the child to have no flaws and be complete so that you are fulfilled as a parent can become a problem for us.
Why? Because you expect that which is anitya, temporary with flaws to be nitya, eternal and flawless.
The problem with a need for perfection lies in its unrealistic and unattainable nature.
Perfect is a search for the infallible, really a search for God, a search I hope puts an end to my seeking. But that never stops in our experience.
Perfection is different from good enough or the best enough in the time and resources available to us. No, this is not a cop out. No, I am not asking you to give up your high standards but just getting in touch with reality.
We have to see that our need for perfection is preventing us from enjoying the life we have because the mirage of perfection is always some distance away.
Some problems associated with the need for perfection are
Subjective and Unrealistic standards: Perfection is subjective and varies from person to person. Your perfect cup of tea, perfect meal, perfect vacation is not the same as that for the other person. Having high standards can inspire and offer direction. But setting unrealistic standards for oneself can lead to constant self-criticism, self-doubt, and a sense of failure when those standards cannot be met. This perpetual cycle of striving for an unattainable ideal can be mentally and emotionally exhausting.
Fear of Failure: The pursuit of perfection is often driven by a fear of failure. People with a perfectionistic mindset are afraid of making mistakes or falling short of their own expectations. This fear can create immense anxiety, hindering creativity, innovation, and personal growth. It can also lead to a reluctance to take risks or try new things, as the fear of not achieving perfection becomes a barrier to progress. Haven’t you heard people, ‘If I do something, I will do it perfectly or not do it at all’ The mighty ship is safest in the harbour rather than sailing in the ocean of life, all because of the fear of venturing out in the uncertain waters.
Reduced Self-Worth: The relentless pursuit of perfection can undermine a person ‘s self-worth. When your idea of absolute perfection becomes the benchmark for success and happiness, any perceived flaws or shortcomings can lead to feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. You are not living a life as it is but a life that does not match the idea in your head. Since the focus is on what I can do better, all the time, I forget the wind beneath my wings in the form of one’s strengths, accomplishments and one’s support system.
Lack of Balance and Enjoyment: The need for perfection often consumes excessive time and energy, leaving little room for balance and enjoyment in life. Constantly striving for flawlessness in one area of life can result in neglecting other areas. The relentless pursuit of perfection can lead to burnout, stress-related health issues, and a diminished sense of overall happiness. You never feel ‘enough’ about anything in life.
Strained Relationships: The pursuit of perfection can also have a negative impact on relationships. Perfectionists may hold excessively high expectations of others, leading to constant disappointment and frustration when these expectations are not met. It is perfectly okay to expect in relationships but when the focus is only on what is missing to make the relationship perfect, slowly the relationship will tear apart at the seams. Around perfectionists, the other often feels judged, criticised and dissatisfied. A perfect person for you is the one who cares for you, offers support and accepts you and vice versa.
Hence, we see that the problems of having the need for perfection show up in having strained relationships, lack of imbalance and enjoyment, reduced sense of self worth, fear of failure, holding on to subjective and unrealistic standards
Only if we see what our unreasonable need for absolute perfection is doing to us in and others, we can appreciate that the need for absolute perfection is not a perfect pursuit.
We can release the burden from ‘perfection’ and not expect it to give us moksha especially when one is looking for a perfect job, a perfect partner, a perfect child or even a perfect guru.
The Vedic vision is not one of striving for perfection but living a life of dynamic Dharma in the pursuit of artha, wealth and kama, pleasure and emotional fulfilment as well as performing one’s duties across relationships.
The following things happen in the light of the Vedic vision –
1.Shift in vision from need for perfection to alignment with Dharma
In the light of the Vedic vision, the need for perfection then shifts to need to align with Dharma, the values of ahimsa, satyam, Santosha, tapas, daya etc.
In our shaastra we are exposed to Sri Rama who obeyed and fulfilled his father’s boon to his stepmother and went through much hardship because he wanted his father’s word to be upheld.
And then we have a young boy called Prahlad who refused to worship his father, Hiranyakashipu who had created havoc in the three lokas, His love for Bhagavan invoked the Narsimha avataara, half man, half lion who eventually killed his own father and restored peace to the denizens of the three lokas.
Is Sri Rama a perfect son or is Prahalad a perfect son?
We can answer this only in the context of Dharma that was upheld by both. Both Sri Rama and Prahlada had the confidence in doing the right thing
Dharma being universal but relative in application is about doing what is appropriate in a given situation which is not about an absolute standard of perfection.
Harmonious relationships and increased self worth– We let go of rigid expectations and embrace the present moment. We learn to accept people as they are. Rather than seek perfection in people we give them freedom to be who they are and free ourselves as well.
One’s self worth increases as we increasingly see that we are personifications of dharma, doing what is appropriate in given situations, responding with kindness, justice, efficiency, hard work and discipline.
As the harmony across our relationships grow, we develop the leisure to see the reality of what is.
Reduction of our subjective unrealistic standards to preferences –
When we see some of the stunning sculpture on the walls of our temple where the murtis come to life, we see that the artisans and sculptors did their best with the tools and the bhakti they were given then. Was it perfect? I don’t even know what that means. Was it beautiful and exquisite and inspiring and alive? Yes. Let perfect not become the enemy of the best in any given time and place. We can continue to have high standards subjective to what is applicable in the given time, place and resources available.
In the need for perfection, we further our ragas and dveshas which then condition us so deeply that we cannot enjoy what is present in front of us. Only my kind of coffee is perfect and so even if someone offers me coffee which is different from my kind of coffee, I am in a lousy mood. Why? because in the name of high standards, I have now become a slave to my kind of coffee. In the name of having fine tastes, I have only limited my scope of enjoyment. Nothing wrong with my kind of coffee but if the raga is reduced to a preference, life can be far more enjoyable. I stop holding on to subjective and unrealistic standards at all times and in all places and stop allowing my happiness to be a hostage to ragas and dveshas, binding likes and dislikes.
From fear of failure to living in courage despite one’s fears