By Chris Chittenden
Today, we seem to be constantly bombarded with a subtle but clear message that the world and the people in it should perfect. There should be no wars, people should not die in car accidents, people should always act in the right way, people should look like the models in magazines and on TV - the list is endless. Sure no-one wants anyone to be killed in a car accident or in a war. Yet whilst there are cars in motion and people with power who see they have something to gain through force, there is always the possibility of cars colliding and people being killed by bombs and guns.
Unfortunately, the world is not perfect, yet we seem to be under greater and greater pressure to make it so. So much so, that many of us speak of ourselves in a way in which we seem to have an underlying story that we should be perfect. We should be able to have the perfect job, the perfect partner, perfect children and live a perfect life. Yet as Clayton Lafferty pronounced, "Perfectionism is a sure cure for happiness."
By hanging onto a story that things can be perfect, we orient ourselves to a world in which something is always missing. We set ourselves up to be unhappy because the world is never quite as it should be.
Take a minute and think about a day in your life when everything seemed to go the way you wanted. Was it a perfect day? In many ways it may seem so when we look back at it, yet I am sure at the time it did not really feel so perfect. Even the best day in our life is followed by days that are not quite so good. Yet very often we hanker for a period in our life that seems like our golden age and wish the world could be like that again. Even if we do have a day that we see as ideal, we find that it does not last. At best, perfection can only be fleeting as the world changes and what was ideally suited for one time may not be suited to another.
From a coaching perspective, the idea of perfectionism is one that surfaces regularly. As you have read this article, you may have noticed the extensive use of the word, "should". It should be like this, it should be like that. The overuse of the word "should" often points to people who believe in part in the perfect world. Whilst it is important to recognise that we must strive to make the world a better place, as we see it, and to be active in designing that world, we do ourselves a disservice if we think we can or must make it perfect. That disservice manifests itself in stress, anger, frustration and a poor self-image.
We invite you to take some time to see if you focus on what "should be" in the world and look at the impact that might be having on you. We are not suggesting that you do not set your sights high, but we invite you to do so in the context of what you can practically achieve. Rather than thinking of what "should be", consider the question of what "could be" and explore how this different view can reframe the world in which you live.
© 2004 Chris Chittenden