The Problem with Perfect

Most of the time it just doesn’t exist


Being perfect is an ideal that some people may strive for or feel that they are required to attain, but how realistic is the notion of perfection?

One of the biggest problems with perfect is that a lot of things in this world are subjective. When it comes to things that are subjective, everyone has their own idea of what perfect is to them, so there is no such thing as a one true perfect.

So what happens if we want to be perfect but there is no perfect? We make assumptions about what other people’s standard of perfection is. And like the saying goes, to assume makes an ass out of u and me. That assumed standard of perfection that you might feel compelled to meet is most likely far higher than the standard that you would expect of someone else, but why should your standard count in comparison to the assumed standards of hypothetical others?

Alexander Pope said in his Essay on Criticism that “to err is human; to forgive, divine.” In 1999, the U.S. National Institute of Medicine released a report called To Err is Human that exposed the number of deaths that resulted from medical errors. People make mistakes. That’s what we do. All of us. On a regular basis.

If you don’t make any mistakes, I suspect you don’t exist, but if you do, you’re very much outside the norm.

Even high-performance Olympic athletes make mistakes. People train for years with a support team that addresses every element of the athlete’s performance, and yet in the top 10 Olympic figure skaters in any given event there will be multiple people who fall. They’re the best of the best, and they’re landing on their butts.

So rather than expecting perfection, wouldn’t it be more rational to expect some mistakes? If you can catch them all before they’re outwardly visible, great, but know that chances are, a few will get through.

In a variety of contexts, our reaction to a situation has less to do with the situation itself than with the discrepancy between reality and our expectations. If you go in expecting perfection, 99+ times out of 100 you’re going to be disappointed, and judge yourself negatively as a result. Does this help you be more perfect next time? Probably not; the more likely scenario is that you’ll feel even greater pressure to be perfect, which will make you all the more likely to be human and make mistakes.

If you go into a situation expecting that a few errors will slip through, and then, being human, you do have the odd error that slips through, the discrepancy between actual performance and expectations isn’t very big, so probably you end up feeling not too bad about things.

Of course, perfection isn’t the only thing we might get hooked on. There are comparisons to others, and also comparisons to self at previous points in time (which tends to be my own biggest hangup). Regardless, though, there are some things that we can control, and others that we can’t. What we always have control over (although it may sometimes take a fair bit of mental wrestling) is our expectations.

Expect too high (e.g. perfection) and you’ll always be disappointed. Expect too low, and you may not do as much as you’re capable of.

Somewhere in the middle is Goldilocks, sitting on her butt at the Olympic ice rink, sipping some yummy hot chocolate.

So grab a cushion and a hot chocolate and join the party.

Originally published at on April 28, 2020.

Written by

Mental health blogger | MH Nurse | Living with depression | Author of 3 books, latest is Managing the Depression Puzzle |

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store