Views on perfectionism and perfectionists are varied, but I think that most people believe that the positives of perfectionism outweigh the negatives. Thomas Curran, a professor at the London School of Economics, takes a different view and wrote about it in his book, The Perfection Trap: Embracing the Power of Good Enough. He believes that perfectionism is a hidden epidemic that results from our perception of how we measure up to other people. The perfectionist’s pursuit of perfection is not as much an act of altruism as an effort to make up for our perceived inadequacies.
He writes from personal experience. He grew up in a poor family, and he felt that everyone around him had more than he had. He says this led to shame and embarrassment and spurred him to attempt to be perfect at everything. In an interview on NPR, when asked whether perfectionism is positive or negative, he noted that while sometimes a perfectionist’s performance is better because of that drive, typically, it ends up negatively impacting performance and quality of life. First, the person tends to work very, very hard but to an unsustainable degree, and second, perfectionists tend to be “world class self-saboteurs.” When faced with failure, some will withdraw from the activity or procrastinate under the belief that you can’t fail if you don’t try. The bottom line, he says, is that the perfectionist is ultimately trying to manage the stress and anxiety of possible failure.
I haven’t read the book, so I really don’t know how I feel about his conclusions, but at first glance, they make sense. The pursuit of perfection is not the issue. It’s the potential impact of the stress that the pursuit creates. For those on social media, it’s even tougher. It’s hard to be good enough when everyone on social media projects being wealthier, better-looking, happier, etc.
Curran noted that self-acceptance is one way to combat the stress and anxiety associated with trying to measure up to others. I hope that the book goes deeper, because telling someone to accept who they are seems a little too simple. If the problem is as deep as he believes, it will take a lot of hard work to change that perfectionist attitude. But, as the old saying goes, admitting you have a problem is the first step in fixing it.
Take care and stay safe.
The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian
Tanzania, 1964. When Katie Barstow, A-list actress, and her new husband, David Hill, decide to bring their Hollywood friends to the Serengeti for their honeymoon, they envision giraffes gently eating leaves from the tall acacia trees, great swarms of wildebeests crossing the Mara River, and herds of zebras storming the sandy plains. Their glamorous guests—including Katie’s best friend, Carmen Tedesco, and Terrance Dutton, the celebrated Black actor who stars alongside Katie in the highly controversial film Tender Madness—will spend their days taking photos, and their evenings drinking chilled gin and tonics back at camp, as the local Tanzanian guides warm water for their baths. The wealthy Americans expect civilized adventure: fresh ice from the kerosene-powered ice maker, dinners of cooked gazelle meat, and plenty of stories to tell over lunch back on Rodeo Drive. What Katie and her glittering entourage do not expect is this: a kidnapping gone wrong, their guides bleeding out in the dirt, and a team of Russian mercenaries herding their hostages into Land Rovers, guns to their heads. As the powerful sun gives way to night, the gunmen shove them into abandoned huts and Katie Barstow, Hollywood royalty, prays for a simple thing: to see the sun rise one more time. A blistering story of fame, race, love, and death set in a world on the cusp of great change.