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Ironically, a quest for perfection will likely destroy us

From data based on 41,641 American, Canadian, and British college students:

Between 1989 and 2016, college students’ levels of self-oriented, socially prescribed, and other-oriented perfectionism all increased by statistically significant amounts. Recent generations of young people are more demanding of themselves, perceive that others are more demanding of them, and are more demanding of others.

Hmmm. That doesn’t seem so bad on face, right? We should all want to be better people, no? The quest for perfection is a good thing at some level, then?

Uh, naw.

The first problem with the quest for perfection

Um, it’s impossible to achieve.

Perfection doesn’t really exist.

Or, well, there’s this money shot quote from 2014:

“We are a system of man. Man is fallible. The last perfect person to live on this earth, we nailed Him to a cross.”

Yep. That’s about accurate.

The second problem with the quest for perfection

Uh, read this:

Perhaps the most concerning trend documented in our analysis is that of socially prescribed perfectionism. It increased at twice the rate of self-oriented and other-oriented perfectionism. It is also the form of perfectionism that exhibits the largest association of all the dimensions with a host of mental health issues including anxiety, depression, social phobia, and suicidal thoughts. The increase in socially prescribed perfectionism makes for a compelling backdrop for almost epidemic levels of serious mental illness in young people.

Right, and …

We’re seeing this all more, too

Lots of reporting about people being nervous.

Increasing social isolation.

That isolation is major at work too.

More and more discussions of loneliness too.

We ignore this stuff. Then someone shoots up a concert and we throw a few “thoughts and prayers” at it and go back to posting our great shit on Instagram.

Does anyone not see how it’s all a giant circular loop that we’re just pretending doesn’t exist?

The whole thing with perfectionism at work

One of the great ironies of any idea around “perfectionism” at work is, of course, that most managers are absolutely hideous at their job. 82% end up being the wrong hire. That’s an absolutely miserable failure rate. If you got a 18 (100-82) on a test, your mother might scream at you. In white-collar work, we just let it happen. We say “that’s how it’s always been!”

Despite most managers being horrible and crippling the bottom line, these are the same people allowed to slave-drive you and demand supposed “perfection.”

Now, in reality work “perfection” usually means “the right boxes were checked in the eyes of the manager.”

It almost never means “this product was really high quality.”

But still.

That slave-driving “quest for perfection” bullshit is what burns a lot of people out on jobs.

On revision 19,141, how much do you care about the “purpose” and “mission” of what you do?

When you’re answering emails from some ass puppet at 11:01pm on a Saturday, how “engaged” are you?

Bosses do that because they want to be seen as good, relevant, and “on top of things.” They want to “always do their best.”

In reality they’re often just making the whole thing worse.

And if you think that’s not contributing to the loneliness/isolation stats above, I got a bridge I can sell you.

How do we fix all this?

Realize we ain’t perfect, we ain’t gonna be perfect, and that quest is mostly futile.

Do the best we can for ourselves and our family/friends.

Realize work is a means to an end — care, but don’t care enough to burn you down.

Done is better than perfect.

Just live your life the best you can.

Don’t compare as much, even when scrolling social.

Just be.

Cultivate self-awareness.

What else would you say?

Ted Bauer

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