Opinion: ‘The tyranny of perfectionism’

Posted on Nov 8 2017 - 7:58am by Tripp Bond

Perfection is a goal all of us strive for, whether or not we know it. Whether you’re striving for the perfect body, relationship or grades, you’re striving for perfection in some way. As students, especially, we tend to get bent out of shape striving for academic perfection.

Growing up, there were very high expectations for me to be an academic perfectionist. I was supposed to make all A’s. This burden stressed me out incredibly and led to no small amount of guilt when I didn’t achieve this standard of perfection.

It took me a while to realize that if B’s were my best in a class, then that was OK. And now I’m discovering the greater truth behind this realization.

Recently, I’ve adopted Christian Absurdism — a theistic version of the existential philosophy known as absurdism — which has radically changed my perspective on life, and what’s truly important.

Purist Absurdism (neither atheistic nor theistic) teaches that we mere mortals may never discover if our day to day lives have any meaning and that daily living likely doesn’t have any meaning. Therefore, you should act as if it does to rebel against the possible meaninglessness.

Sisyphus was a mythical king who tried to feed Zeus his own children. As his punishment, Sisyphus was forced to push a boulder to the top of a mountain. However, he was cursed to drop the boulder every single time. This means he was destined to push that boulder up that mountain for eternity.

Yet, there is no doubt Sisyphus discovered this. According to one of the great Absurdists, Albert Camus, we must imagine that Sisyphus decided to rebel against his meaningless existence and choose to be happy despite the punishment.

In many ways, we can compare our human struggle with that of Sisyphus, whether in facing the absurd, in our dead-end jobs or in our striving for perfection. Daily, Sisyphus strives for perfection (to finally push that boulder over the mountaintop). Yet, it is unlikely, if he were real, that by this point he would expect to finally reach it.

The same is true for us as students. Often, when starting out, we strive for perfection and expect some metaphysical law of cause and effect to give us what we strove for. Newsflash: It doesn’t happen. We’re often let down. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still strive for perfection.

It is good to strive for perfection, to chase it with all of our might. Where perfection’s tyranny comes in is when we are tricked into expecting perfection.

How many times have you planned out the perfect evening, date or study session, only for almost everything to go wrong? In my case, the examples are in the hundreds if not the thousands.

It’s good to prepare for the test, doing your best and studying for the A, but it’s bad to expect the A. Expectation of perfection is a recipe for depression. See, life is like a puff of smoke. You can try to grab it and force it into a shape, but when you do, it eludes you and flits through your fingers. The harder you squeeze? The quicker it flies away.

Try to grab life. It’s worth it. But hold your expectations with an open hand. Let them fly away. If you squeeze life so hard, expecting perfection, the stress of your fist closing in on it will make life fly out between your fingers all the faster.

We Christians, as opposed to the secular world, have a leg up on this idea. For almost 2,000 years, we’ve been called to be like Jesus, the perfect human. We know we can never reach this perfection — not in this life, anyway.

Yet we strive to be like him, to be perfect. We rightly strive for perfection, but don’t expect to obtain it. How absurd is that (see the pun there)?

And here’s the kicker: We aren’t even perfect in applying this philosophy. Regularly when I slip up and sin, I kick myself until I realize that Christ has liberated me from the expectation of perfection with an old theological term called grace.

My final word is this: Strive for perfection, but don’t expect it; it’s OK to make mistakes. It’s OK not to make an A. It’s OK not to be perfect as long as you’re striving for it. After all, you’re only human.

Tripp Bond is a sophomore history major from Meridian.