Perfectionists are builders who take building to the highest level. They try harder with extraordinary determination to excel. Every excellence is merely a new starting point upon which to improve.
Perfectionists have a heightened sense of order and exactitude from the biggest big picture to the tiniest tiny detail. Their antennae register the risk of error and usually avert it. When they make a mistake, they don’t flinch or break stride. They take the immediate next step to recover from it and improve. Fretting over a mistake is anathema to real perfectionists. They relentlessly develop ways to move forward quickly after a mistake. They quickly get it right and do better. They plow ahead despite opposition, failure, and danger.
Perfectionist versus Frustrationist
When people say, “I get frustrated a lot because I’m such a perfectionist,” they are corrupting the term “perfectionist.” Perfectionists don’t dwell on frustration, because frustration itself is one of the most repulsive imperfections. Claiming to be a perfectionist is a self-congratulatory imperfection of character.
A true perfectionist doesn’t claim to be a perfectionist.
A to B—the Perfect Path
Perfectionists are painfully aware that to get from point A (mistake) to point B (correcting a mistake) may require a long period of painful effort to improve in any given area, whether a skill, a job, a goal, a hobby, a passion, or in small mistakes during everyday activities.
Perfectionists make difficult work look easy. They take seriously the importance of poise and fortitude under extraordinary duress.
The phony perfectionist wants everything to be perfect now, without any real effort. Phony perfectionists complain about imperfections and then do nothing to overcome them. They are frustrated by point A (mistake), but don’t look seriously for a point B (correcting a mistake). It doesn’t get any less perfect than that.
Not complaining about imperfections is part of the perfection of the perfectionist. Complaining gets in the way of conquering.
Another important recognition of a true perfectionist is that there is always lots of room for improvement. The perfect path from point A to point B grows more perfect with every new experience.
Working with excruciating exactitude on improvements in life, achieving something worthwhile, but never resting, pushing further to improve more, is the steady whip on the back of the perfectionist. No one will ever see the pain or the struggle, because it will look easy.
Vincent van Gogh
Being a true artist is a form of perfectionism. For example, Vincent van Gogh created over 2,000 paintings and drawings from 1880 to 1890. About 900 of those were fully realized paintings. That’s at least seven paintings and nine drawings per month, every month. At today’s values, van Gogh would be making about $10 million per month. He didn’t get a penny. He painted because he was a perfect artist—he couldn’t not paint.
Even if he was slightly insane, he was certainly a driven perfectionist, and he had a true artist’s passion to work. The drive to achieve such quantity and quality shows the perfectionist’s character—the quiet perseverance and productivity, straining privately with every last nerve to do better; for days, months, years, and decades.
Frustrationists Who Drag Others Down Instead of Lifting Themselves Up
People who feel resentment, envy, or jealousy at someone else’s achievements, become subordinate to their own bitterness—nurturing a cancer that eats away at their potential.
This is another trait of the frustrationist: one who compares self to others.
A frustrationist does not want others to do well. A frustrationist wants others to do worse, “so I look better.” This is a laziness that is related to the artificial-self-image fraud; whereby the phony perfectionist indulges in fantasies of greatness, without the painful work of earning it. Others must fail, in order for the frustrationist to gain a sense of self-worth.
Conversely, perfectionists relish in others’ successes, because of a deep desire for all things in life to excel and draw closer to perfection—in oneself and in all others and in all things. True perfectionists do not compare self to others, but compare self (and others) to higher potential for improvement in every area.
Real perfectionists want a world filled with highest functioning, highest caliber people, achieving great successes, raising the bar every day, everywhere, for everyone. Every step in that direction, every achievement of anyone, and every ounce of improvement in any area, is celebrated quietly, while striving to keep doing better.
Not for Everyone
Perfectionism is an unhealthy mode for many people, because it is too demanding on the psyche. But you don’t have to be a perfectionist to learn, appreciate, and follow the same general principles: quiet fortitude, not complaining, keeping high standards, always trying to improve, and hoping the best for others.
Being a perfectionist takes the normal healthy ways of living, and exponentially increases the effort, the discipline, the focus, and the determination, far beyond the sane limits of normal human capacity.
Everyone falls somewhere in the spectrum between no perfectionist characteristics and a complete perfectionist. Most people tend towards one end or the other. Everyone is somewhere in between because, after all, nobody’s perfect. The lesson is to work for improvement at all times.
The topic of this post is explored further in THE BOOK Call of the Active Mind.
©copyright Robert Rose-Coutré 2016