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How often are you pursuing perfection?

Today is January 24 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you pursuing perfection?” Navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well never involves being perfect.

Do not confuse achieving one dream after another for perfection. Do not confuse the art of living well with perfection. Do not allow yourself to be seduced by the pursuit of perfection. Such seduction is a fool’s errand and will often result in a dead end instead of progress.

As Spanish artist Salvador Dali observed “Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it.” Why then, do so many parents insist that their children be perfect? As a parent, navigating the chaos of raising children and practicing the art of living well requires a deep understanding of the harm demanding perfection from our children is causing.

As a parent, are you directly or indirectly teaching your child/ren the following equation?: You need to be perfect so you can get into the perfect school where you will earn perfect grades, be the perfect student and then get into the perfect college? You will then have the perfect major, perfect internship, and land the perfect job, all the while finding the perfect husband, or wife. Doing so will allow your life to be perfect! You are the perfect child!

How is such an approach working out? Is this pressure to be perfect effecting the mental health of your children? Do you know? How would you know? As one researcher noted “Pressure on children to achieve is rampant, because parents now seek much of their status from the performance of their kids.” Seriously? You, the adult, failed to achieve the status you desired as a child and now, with your own children, you force them to accomplish what you were unable to do? Why? To what end? To feel better about yourself?

If you are pressuring your children to accomplish something you were unable to, use today’s reflection to recognize that is not a characteristic of one who practices the art of living well. The art of living well allows your children to make mistakes, reflect upon them, and then learn to apply lessons learned moving forward. The art of living well allows you to make a mistake. The art of living well permits you to be imperfect.

But this message is falling short as parents are simply pursuing perfection in their children at alarming rates. As you reflect upon how you raise your children, recall the observation by author Frank A. Clark who once wrote “The most important thing that parents can teach their children is how to get along without them.”

The research is overwhelmingly clear, far too many parents have pursued this child rearing strategy of forcing their children to be perfect. “As many as two in five kids and adolescents are perfectionists,” says Katie Rasmussen, who researches child development and perfectionism at West Virginia University. “We’re starting to talk about how it’s heading toward an epidemic and public health issue.”

As Amanda Ruggeri wrote “The rise in perfectionism doesn’t mean each generation is becoming more accomplished. It means we’re getting sicker, sadder and even undermining our own potential.” Paul Hewitt, a clinical psychologist, and professor at the University of British Columbia defined perfectionism as a broad personality style characterized by a hypercritical relationship with one’s self.

Hewitt co-authored Perfectionism: A Relational Approach to Conceptualization, Assessment, and Treatment where he explains that setting high standards and aiming for excellence can be positive traits, but perfectionism is “dysfunctional because it is underscored by a person’s sense of themselves as permanently flawed or defective. One way they try to correct that is by being perfect.”

As Christie Aschwanden wrote in a December 5, 2019, Vox article "Perfectionism is killing us" the advent of social media has, for the past decade, made it “possible to constantly compare your own life to others, and, as a result, perfectionism has only become amplified.” To better assess the trends associated with the rise of perfectionism pre- and post- social media, researchers Andrew Hill and Thomas Curran gathered data from more than 40,000 college students who had taken a psychological measure of perfectionism between 1989 and 2016.

In 1989, about nine percent of respondents posted high scores in socially prescribed perfectionism, but by the end of the study, that had doubled to about 18 percent. Hill noted “On average, young people are more perfectionistic than they used to be and the belief that other people expect you to be perfect has increased the most.”

In their December 2016 Journal of Clinical Psychology paper "The Relationship Between Perfectionism and Psychopathology: A Meta-Analysis,” Karina Limburg and colleagues concluded “high levels of perfectionism were correlated with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, deliberate self-harm and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The constant stress of striving to be perfect can also leave people fatigued, stressed and suffering from headaches and insomnia.”

Remember the observation by author Brené Brown “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving for excellence. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is a defensive move.” Reread that. Perfectionism is not the same as striving for excellence. If you think it is then you need to stop and rethink your obsession with perfectionism.

  • How often are you pursuing perfection from yourself or your child?

  • Why do you believe perfection is achievable?

  • Will you feel superior over others if you convince yourself you are perfect?

  • If you are pursuing perfection, is it because you are afraid of being imperfect?

  • How is your pursuit of perfectionism hurting you or those you love?


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