Updated: Jan 16
It seems most people, at some point in their lives, struggle with perfectionism–but what does perfect actually mean? We understand perfection as the state of being flawless, or as free from flaws as possible. It’s that great standard we should all be striving for because perfect means you have finally made it to greatness! This idea, however, is terribly subjective, because what I consider perfect may be wildly different than what you consider perfect.
The original meaning of “perfect” in Latin simply meant “to bring to an end” or “to finish”–there was no mention of flawlessness. So, in this case, the adage “done is better than perfect” actually means “done is perfect.”
Aristotle defined "perfect" to fall into one of three different states:
That is perfect:
1. which is complete — which contains all the requisite parts;
2. which is so good that nothing of the kind could be better;
3. which has attained its purpose.
We fixate way too much on that second point and should be spending more of our time thinking about number 1 and number 3 on that list. That which is done or which serves its purpose is in fact, perfect.
But there are still other ways to define perfection. The Greek philosopher Empedocles, saw imperfection as true perfection because perfection was actually the act of improvement and progress.
Based on these ideas, the Italian philosopher Lucilllio Vanini formulated this paradox of perfection: if something is perfect, it lacks “true perfection’ because it cannot be improved upon. In a nutshell, the conclusion is that perfect doesn’t exist!
There are many reasons why the concept of perfect has shifted from its original meaning and why we feel we need to be flawless in all our endeavors. Society, economy, culture, and family dynamics are some factors that play into our internalized perfectionism. It seems like a hopeless grind, but there are ways to break out of this cycle.
When faced with the thought that you need to be perfect, try doing some–or all–of these things:
Remind yourself that “perfect” does not exist and that “done” is the original perfect.
Practice doing things imperfectly. By working on a lower-stakes project and practicing being okay with completing tasks in an unpolished way, you’ll learn the skills to embrace imperfection in other parts of your life.
Write down all the good things about a completed piece of work instead of focusing on the flaws.
Also, finding a community to help you through your doubts is super important. Doing the things you dream of doesn’t need to happen in a vacuum. Ask for help from friends, family, internet communities, or you can find help from a mentor or professional. These are all proven ways to help you through the struggles of perfectionism.