On the hunt for perfection
February means … Winter Olympics! I am big Olympics fan. I like to watch amazing athletes in their element, looking to perform their best. And I’m always astonished at what they accomplish. Endurance, courage, speed, focus. Passion. Perseverance.
I watched Russian Alexander Bolshunov compete and win gold in men’s skiathlon and heard the comments about how he trains to achieve the focus he showed after falling; he got up and kept going, never giving up.
Canadian Max Parrot, three years removed from a cancer diagnosis, won gold. Mark McMorris, five years from a rescue team airlifting his shattered body out of the Canadian backcountry, took bronze in snowboarding. All those twists and turns in the air with names that make me smile and wonder who comes up with them.
France’s Johan Clarey became the oldest medal winner in Olympic Alpine skiing history on Monday morning, as the 41-year-old claimed the silver in the men’s downhill. I watched in awe as the skiers came down that very steep mountain, holding my breath.
We hear all about the winners. But we also heard a story yesterday of grace in the face of defeat. In the first wave of the women’s moguls final on Sunday, Canada Justine Dufour-Lapointe, a two time Olympic medallist, falls on the second turn. It was a long, never-ending fall, “Oh my god” she said in the kind of cry that will tear your heart in two. She gets back up after her fall and asks for help retrieving her second pole. She shuffles further up on the slope and takes a deep breath, looking up at the sky. There was no question, she was finishing her run. In her interview, Justine said: “I needed to finish this Olympic dream on my two feet and make sure that each person watching tonight knows that beyond winning, beyond days like this, the most important thing is to never give up.”
Perfectionism: a way of looking at life
Why am I telling you all this, you are probably wondering by now. I am talking about the search for perfection. All these athletes train long hours to achieve perfection. Each athlete in each sport has a set of perfection goals to reach for. I went looking for a definition of perfection. What perfectionism is and is not. Here’s what I found:
Perfectionism gets a bad rap. It has been called a “hidden epidemic”, been the subject of countless self-help books, and linked to mental health issues such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression and suicide.
Perfectionism is described as a general internal dissatisfaction, a feeling that one’s work just isn’t quite up to par. Apparently, this feeling is rather typical of perfectionists. But humans aren’t flawless. We are bundles of foibles and imperfections, which is why artists throughout the ages have woven deliberate mistakes into their work for one reason or another. Some examples:
- The Muslim weavers of Persian carpets always put in one intentional flaw because only God’s creation is perfect.
- In Fishbourne Roman Palace, West Sussex, England, the famous Cupid mosaic has at least 28 deliberate mistakes, but no one knows why. Curators suggest it may hae been as a conversation piece.
- In Navajo culture, rug weavers would leave little imperfections, using thread of contrasting colour along the borders, called chi’ihónít’i, which translates as the spirit line or pathway. Navajos believe that when weaving a rug, the artist entwines part of their being into their cloth and the spirit line allows this trapped part of the weaver’s spirit to safely exit the finished creation.
Whether perfectionism is a dangerous gateway into mental illness, or a glorious nirvana that may or may not be attainable, there’s an attraction to the idea of getting something impeccably right.
That may not be something you are familiar with until you take up a hobby. Or find your passion and start making. You learn to love the process and the act of creating as well as the final product. But as that process progresses, you become less and less tolerant of mistakes.
In my own work, that has changed through the years. I find that when I find a “mistake”, instead of a horrible feeling of gloom, I get a feeling of “yes!”. It’s an opportunity to do something different, something that maybe I had not thought of before, and all of a sudden, the world of that piece of work is full of possibilities. Opening the door to perfection – my way.
Creating something “perfect” (for you) gives you a sense of accomplishment and control. And perfectionism is all about control. As humans, we need to understand that we live and create in a chaotic and unpredictable world where often matters are beyond our control. Perfectionism can be a problem if it stops you from creating. Perhaps allowing yourself that bit of perfection will help you accept all the imperfections that surround us.
When you find your passion, there are many wonderful, exciting things about it: buying supplies, doing research, planning projects, starting, working through, finishing and finally using what you made. Having the power to create something that is “perfect” can lead to a real sense of accomplishment and relief.
I think that’s what the athletes feel when they reach the finish line: a sense of accomplishment that all that work paid off (whatever the results), and relief that all the work paid of and it’s done. Nerves out of the way. Time to think about the next one.
For creatives, that feeling comes with doing research into a new project, working on that project and finishing it to our standards. Perfection – to me – is a state of mind. I am, perfectly satisfied, until the next time.
And that’s life.
Until next time, stay safe. Keep creating your own perfection,