Stephen Manes, in his book “Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days,” goes on a nice little tirade about how wonderfully freeing it is to be imperfect. He states:
“Perfect is never doing anything wrong – which means never doing anything at all. Perfect is boring! So you’re not perfect! Wonderful! Have fun! Eat things that give you bad breath! Trip over your own shoelaces! Laugh! Let somebody else laugh at you! You can drink pickle juice and imitate gorillas and do silly dances and sing stupid songs and wear funny hats and be as imperfect as you please and still be a good person.”
To be perfect, or to expect perfection in others, should be right up there with catching a fairy or nabbing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It’s impossible to do. And it’s this intense desire to be flawless that is at the root of self-image issues, family problems, and stress at work. While a research study by Queendom reveals that most people fall somewhere in the middle on the perfectionism scale (in that they set the bar high for themselves and others, but not unreasonably so), there are some pedestal-seeking individuals who push this desire to an extreme – and inevitably come tumbling down in the process.
According to our statistics, perfectionistic tendencies tend to vary according to gender, age, education level and school grades. Women tend to be slightly more obsessed with perfection than men, particularly in terms of Personal Perfectionism (setting high standards for self) and living up to social pressures to be perfect. Not surprising, given that the majority of media attention emphasizes the need for women to stop or at least inhibit the aging process, to use only the best cleaning products for their family, and to drop two dress sizes in thirty days or less. And that’s aside from the fact that they’re constantly being told (however, subtly) that they must behave a like a porn star in the bedroom but a duchess everywhere else, that stretch marks bring their value down like a scratch on a car, and that if they don’t smell like Jennifer Lopez or dress like the future Queen of England, there’s something wrong. Men have it hard too, don’t get me wrong. If you don’t drive a masculine, gas-guzzling monster on wheels you’re a sissy. If you’re bald, it’s only cool if you’re young. You have to look toned and beefy in several key places. And if you don’t use a particular scented body spray, women won’t want to rub themselves all over you. But alas, let me not rant on here.
In terms of age differences, the desire for perfection in self and others tends to peak between the ages of 25-29, and then steadily drops as we age. Education level and grades are also a common area where people are constantly seeking perfection, with people who were in the top 5% as students scoring highest on terms of Personal Perfectionism, Pressure at Work to be Perfect, and Expecting Perfection from Coworkers. Moreover, as education level increases, so too does the desire to be perfect.
There’s a key point to highlight here, however. There’s a difference between setting high expectations, and setting unrealistic expectations. Queendom’s data reveals that the pitfalls of wanting perfection are numerous. So for all the high-achieving students or workaholics, take note: More isn’t always better. People with a strong desire for perfection were more likely than those with reasonable expectations to be hard on themselves when they fail, to have lower self-esteem, to have stress-related problems, and to have been diagnosed with depression or an anxiety disorder.
Queendom’s perfectionism study also reveals that:
- 18% of test-takers believe that in order to encourage success, it’s essential to be tough on a child when he or she fails.
- 27% believe that they will be labeled as bad parents if their kids aren’t successful in school. That’s a lot of pressure on both the parents and the kids who may not thrive under the standard approach to teaching.
- 34% feel that failing an assignment at work/school makes them a failure as a person. It’s this kind of generalization that is most damaging to one’s self-esteem.
- 37% have missed a deadline because they didn’t consider their work perfect enough to hand in.
- 37% believe that they have to be in perfect physical shape in order to be considered attractive. And we wonder why celebrities have so many hang-ups about their appearance…
- 38% believe that as long as they are perfect in their partner’s eyes, they will never be rejected. By the same token, should they fail to reach perfection, rejection is to be expected.
- 50% feel that being considered “average” is terrible.
What is your opinion on perfectionism? Share your comments below!
Join me for next week’s discussion on women and self-esteem!