Off the record: Why do we strive for perfection if it’s unattainable?

By Shreya Partha

In my younger and more naive years, I often looked up to the stars for no particular reason other than their distance. Light years away, they weren’t troubled with the bad days I had or the ant on the crosswalk that had met its fate by a giant foot — the stars simply existed. I had viewed the idea of perfection similarly; perfection was also a far-off entity that needn’t be bothered by the miniscule problems of the world. After all, it was perfection. Doesn’t the very definition imply being untainted?

I’ve always been acutely aware that perfection was unattainable.  Yet, that didn’t stop me from using the word to describe things that were far from it. The shoes I decided to pair with my outfit? Perfect. The sunset on a particular day? Perfect. I acknowledge that I use the term lightly, which has probably contributed to my desensitization to the word. Yet, I could never seem to attribute the same view of perfection I had toward material objects to my personal accomplishments or goals. No matter how much I remind myself that perfection is unattainable, I can’t seem to let go of my drive to reach it. Why do I continue to strive for perfection, knowing I won’t ever reach it?

Perfection, although desirable, can never be attained, but it provides something to work toward. (Photo courtesy of The Writing Cooperative)

It is out there, like the stars. And similarly, it guides us. It provides us with a goal to work toward. Without it, there is no principle that inspires us to improve, and there is no precedent on which we can base our actions off of. This isn’t to say that there is only one path to success, but rather that the idea of perfection motivates us to pave a path to our own successes. It would be impossible to define my achievements or actions as “perfect,” but working to achieve the idea of it has provided something to work toward. 

But at the base of it all, we strive for perfection for the very reason that it is unattainable. Somehow, despite the knowledge that it is unattainable, people cling to their hopes of reaching it. They never fully accept the notion that perfection cannot be obtained, and they refuse to recognize the futility of their pursuits. I am no exception to this. Yet, the more I think about it, the more I realize the naivety of this conception. 

I switched my mindset to perceive achieving perfection as a driving force that cultivates progress and improvement. Although achieving perfection cannot be an end goal, working toward it can be a fulfilling journey. By doing this, I set myself on the right path to make decisions that ultimately help me be successful in the ventures I take. To me, success means being proud of the work that I put in and the end result so even if it means I didn’t execute my ventures “perfectly,” I executed them successfully, and that’s what matters more. Perfection will never be attainable, but I’m OK with that.