The Pursuit of Excellence and Perfectionism


Media and life generally sells us a smorgasbord of enticements. We are surrounded by them.  If you look through the magazines and the glossy pages or movies or commercials, you will see manufactured perfection smiling or pouting or sternly staring back at you. You will find the well turned out models. They are, of course,presented to us ,as what we ought to aspire to. Its tied up with the subject of what is constructed for us as heroic or beautiful or significant and to be aspired to. But always unreachable and just beyond our grasp.

Art of the renaissance or the later reformation periods presented beautiful forms of ideal and romanticized men and women.  Michelangelo’s David in Florence is really the ideal renaissance man.  Not a real model but the renaissance view of what humans were to become in that heady age when they believed that nothing but their own intellect and cleverness could overcome all the foibles and superstitions of the past.  Michelangelo could construct an imaginary beauty. But knew it was a dream. Michelangelo got old and his sculpture and his paintings got real to life. Grieving, hurting, reflecting, plainer looking. His Pieta or even the Sistene chapels ceilings  are truer and uglier to life.

Down south and then a left turns you come to Venice. I mention this because it was in Venice that I am told that much attention was given to George Clooney recently and his new wife. A most well turned out and very cool couple indeed. I honestly didn’t dwell too much as its time better spent and none of my business at one level. But Venice really is a lovely place. But I couldn’t but help be struck by the sense of perfect setting and elegance. Not simply of the couple... Mrs. Clooney’s name escapes me… but she apparently is not simply elegant but also a lawyer of no small substance on the international stage.

On the one hand their coupling evokes a sense of all the best and hopefully it won’t be another Hollywood Marriage. It made me wonder about what a construct of perfection by the media was surrounding them. Hopefully Mr. and Mrs. Clooney will hopefully make things work even though the media jackals will gather

Here are not simply a couple with style but a constructed and stylized couple for us to consume and to acclaim here is constructed perfection - until the Media gods wish to act against them and deconstruct their marriage for the audience in the coliseum.

What I am suggesting is that there are many parts of our life that we consume or read in hard glossy copy or digital form and that give a message that we can attain (with a suitable pay packet) perfection. Not quite now. But like Michelangelo’s David and the ideal ,its always around the corner.

I do some relationship counselling and what used to be called marriage counselling. I think I have some therapeutic skills in it. But I don't really like it as I grow older. Much of it, in my observation, is too late. Give me a trauma or critical episode or attempted self harm any time. Inevitably one of the individuals is more keen on being at counselling than the other. What is sad is that people want their relationship to succeed and to be different. They have ideas in their head, and so they should. Some of those ideas are glossy constructs of masculinity or femininity created by thrice married cinema script writers and bundled together with cynically researched story lines and actors that the producers know people will pay money to see. Or some ideas emerge out of the glossy magazines which are evangelical about living the life you want which usually means  living for yourself and always looking for better options . Why? Because you deserve it. -There is no particular philosophical monologue given as to why you deserve it !  You just do.

Our occupation with heroes a heroic image has been around for a long time. Recently looking at the pre-war movie synopsis along with commercial posters of movies from the 1930 s and 1940s one can view the characteristics of what constituted heroes and heroines in that historical space. In 2018 they look shallow, twee and quite wet by modern graphical standards.

However, look at them long enough and they’re no different in theme or even stance from modern movie presentation’s. They are strangely similar. Cool or pouting or stern or masterful individuals.  Shallowness and submission to fashion and manners and its composite desire for the perfect look or to be part of the culture of perfection, we live in hasn’t really changed They are in some strange sense supposed to be stereotypes or fantasies for us to reflect on. Images that offer something to be strived for.  In some way we might attain something of the perfection of the form and manner or affect the manner of the so cool images that would engrave themselves on our minds.

More recently I noticed we have had the 50 most powerful business people or the 50 most influential women. There are various variations of the theme. Such things cycle around the media. You can pick the current zeitgeist over the glossy magazines in the plane or the hairdresser or on the Morning TV programs or numerous other settings. If you look carefully the question is  "What cultural group or political bent or gender is upbeat and who is currently a has been. And what are we subscribing to or what are we being told to subscribe to in our thinking "  Image and language matter in the arena of perfectionism.

 Fame or beauty or status or wealth is of course transitory and fical. Some new upcoming starlet will replace todays chicken or rooster no matter who or what they do or how they sell their lives or bodies to attach themselves to, or by what sacrifices venal or talented that they climb the slippery pole of success.

I need to say that excellence or having a high standard is by no means to be dismissed. If my dentist was nonchalant about my root canal work or my Surgeon about my torn knee cartilage I would be along with any responsible person a bit miffed. And why wouldn’t we want to do a good job of something or do something properly rather than half baked. It will reflect badly on us, we won’t get return business, and it comes back to bite. Importantly and beyond these things however is that doing something well reflects what means to be human. Doing something perfectly is different than having an attitude of excellence.

I think I want to break it down to excelling at something being a noble pursuit and a safe place to be. I think with perfectionism we need to ask what or who is it in the imagination that says, “Not good enough”. That audience needs to be named and exited.

Perfectionists can be dangerous to themselves and dangerous to others. We value friends for example who say they are going to do something and then go and do it. I think there is an excellence and integrity in that. Excelling is not that we pursue significance it is that we privately hold to an integrity.

Depression is a first cousin to anxiety.  Perfectionism is a cousin to obsession.  With obsession comes fear and paralysis or in its extremes cruelty and manipulation of others. Pity the staff that have to work for a perfectionist. Pity the perfectionist who cannot live up to their own imagined standards. Work tasks will never be good enough and failure and inadequacy of others will be the watch words. Alternatively, work started will never be completed out of fear that the final product will never be good enough and therefore failure is denied the final word.

Key performance indicators will strangely never quite get there. Perfectionists will be paralyzed to make any decisions. Never finish tasks and work long hours without any apparent result. Blaming others is always a suitable escape hatch for the perfectionist. It can make for disaster in marriage or families.

Punting the critical audience in our imaginations is a great place to start. The exiting of the perfectionist voice in our heads needs to happen.