It can be a delicate balancing act to actively pursue excellence without getting stymied by the often distorting idea that if it isn’t perfect, it isn’t right, so throw it out. Or at least beat yourself up because you didn’t achieve it. But is there value in the pursuit?
As Harvard professor Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D. notes in his article Just Let Go: “We are constantly bombarded with perfection.”
“Would I have chosen a life without perfectionism had the choice been presented to me when I first became aware of the price I was paying as an athlete, a student, a writer, a partner? Possibly.
“Would I have chosen a life without perfectionism had I known what I would gain by struggling through it, the growth that would take place alongside the real emotional pain? Absolutely not.”
But when does the need for “perfect” become a limitation?
n her article Perfection is Overrated [on her site In The Flow Coaching], Renita Kalhorn relates that she attended a book reading for Violin Dreams, “the latest book by Arnold Steinhardt, first violinist of the renowned Guarneri Quartet.
“When asked during the Q&A about advances in recording technology, Steinhardt replied that while digital technology enabled the production of flawless recordings, in his opinion, they were lacking in emotion and personality.
“He then related an anecdote about Pablo Casals, the great cellist, who was asked by the sound engineer during a recording session to redo a section where the intonation had been a little off. Casals replied indignantly: ‘But that’s the way I played it!’ ”
A Juilliard-trained classical pianist and “peak performance strategista,” Kalhorn admits she is among the many of us who “hears the constant voice of self-criticism,” and says she was “struck with admiration for Casal’s integrity.
“How many of us have such loyalty to ‘imperfect’ reality that we would refuse the opportunity for a do-over? Most of us are much more fascinated with achieving perfection – a life free from flaws, mishaps and mistakes.
What is perfection anyway?
She adds, “Performing artists and athletes spend hours practicing their craft or sport, striving to ensure a ‘perfect’ performance. …
“But what is perfection exactly — and how do we know when we’ve achieved it? Is it possible that the eternal pursuit of perfection could actually spell eternal dissatisfaction?”
Good question. It reminds me (again) of “Avatar” director James Cameron, who retorted about being called a perfectionist: “No, I’m a greatist. I only want to do it until it’s great.”