Distinguishing Perfectionism From Perfection

Thorough. It’s a compliment, surely. Who would ever be provoked by their own precision? Who would not aspire to see through observant eyes, to notice slight errors and inaccuracies in order to correct them?

Meticulous. It is not quite so flattering, but neither is it reproachful. It is merely a trait that some people have and others do not, and either is satisfactory.

Fastidious. Fastidious? No, not me. Detailed, perhaps, but I would never be nitpicky nor critical, and certainly I would never be fastidious.

This is the mindset when it comes to perfectionism. It is viewed as an achievement, an ideological ambition, but quickly, and without much hesitation, it transforms into an unfortunate folly.

Perfectionism is exalted most often throughout youth, but as people age they grow accustomed to the familiar saying “nobody is perfect” and thus conclude perfectionism is a false portrayal of reality.

A complete utopia. This is true, utter perfection, and by this definition, perfectionism matches the claim of an unattainable phenomenon. However, perfectionism cannot be merged into a single diagnosis.

While perfection is the impractical achievement of a flawless action, object or character, perfectionism is the desire to alter specific imperfections. These definitions may seem virtually identical, but the major difference comes in that perfectionists, while wishing and perhaps even aspiring to fix peculiarities, do not have the expectation of repairing every fault.

Does this make perfectionism ideal? Certainly not. Whether a perfectionist mindset is obvious in an individual or a hidden burden, it is painstaking for the individual.

For a perfectionist, details are everything. When it comes to focusing on an assignment or task, details become incredibly distracting. The simple tilt of a pencil or a water bottle cap that is not screwed on all the way can interrupt a perfectionist’s concentration.

However, when people hear a perfectionist describing the abnormalities that disturb him of her, they oftentimes view these disturbances as no more than trivial complaints.

Throughout middle school and high school, people have told me that I have nice handwriting. It is not that each letter individually is particularly appealing; it is that the writing is very precise and appealing collectively.

This compliment, however, is frequently undermined when people claim that I care too much about the appearance of my handwriting. What these people don’t realize is that, while I am indifferent to how others perceive my handwriting, it remains ‘neat’ because of the extensive irritation I feel when ‘o’s do not complete a perfect loop or when ‘s’s are not curved properly.

Silly as it may sound, these slight incongruities pester me exceedingly, but perfectionism cannot be defined solely by what bothers one individual. What provokes one person will go unnoticed by someone else.

Published in November 2015

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