The Perfection Predicament

“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.”
— Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

I am a perfectionist… and probably borderline obsessive-compulsive. I like when things are aligned, balanced, tidy, efficient, and complete. I don’t like when problems arise, and if they do, I have an undying need to fix them. When it is out of my power or capacity to solve the problem I become frustrated, angry, and depressed. I also become avoidant to get the problem off my mind, which causes even more anxiety as the problem goes unsolved. This is one of the primary causes of my procrastination.I enjoy creating problems in order to compel myself to keep working. This makes me a very hard worker, but I also constantly finding fault in everything I do. I think it’s because I rarely spend time appreciating the successes I achieve, and quickly seek out another problem to solve. As a result, my sense of accomplishment is from the completion of tasks. But even after the fact, I don’t appreciate the results. I continue to create more problems to solve. I’m not entirely sure how this came to be my habit, but it results in a vicious cycle that I am fighting to break out of.

What I think my perfectionism boils down to is: control. I have a great fear of the unknown, and the possibility of failure is paralyzing. By maintaining control of the situation all the variables are known and failure is averted. Control leads to success, which ultimately leads to self-worth and acceptance. I think this is why I found comfort in math and science. We are provided a problem and we solve it. We account for the variables, observe the parameters, and get an answer. If it is the right answer we win and we get an A in class.

There is a certain order within the chaos of the universe; there are rules and laws. It is much easier to think of the world as binary… black and white. True or false. Pass or fail. For example, I enjoy stories that have clear good and bad guys, and I like seeing bad guys get their comeuppance. When the lines are blurred, I don’t know how to feel, because I struggle to quantify the grey area. If good guys have to do bad things, I have to know they were justified in their actions.

But with as much order as I like to think there is in the universe, it is still not binary. In reality, even math and science can be philosophical and open to interpretation. It is exhausting trying to live your life in a fashion that runs oppositional to this. The only thing that is certain is change. You can only resist change for so long before your entire foundation starts to fall apart.

I have lived my life resisting change. I have tried to adapt, little by little, but it is still a struggle to relinquish control and allow things to happen. I am not changing as fast as I should be. I try to remind myself that there are no truly good or bad events; those are the labels we apply to them based on how we are feeling. “Bad” events can lead to “good” events. By trying to siphon out life events, you close off your life to so many possibilities. Living a risk-free life takes the excitement out of it.

When I look in retrospect, I have lived a relatively lackluster life. That is not to say that I have wasted my time; it’s just that I have rarely pushed the boundaries. Something inside has driven me to keep pushing, and my box has stretched and gotten larger, but it still contains me. I know that there has always a part of me wanting more; I was just afraid to step out of the box and allow myself to fail. Every day I strive to remind myself that failure is not negative. It is not the end. It is only the beginning of another adventure.

I am at the very beginning of my journey, and it has already brought me amazing things. I urge everyone to be free of your boxes, for who knows what wondrous things might come your way.

Pedro Kaʻawaloa
Pedro Kaʻawaloa

Pedro Kaʻawaloa has a BA in Music from Harvard University. He is a professional performer and music director, as well as a choir conductor, pianist, musician, teacher, and composer. Pedro is also a fitness and mindfulness enthusiast.

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  1. Just remember that every “failure” is just another lesson learned.Some lessons take more than one “failure” to learn. All lessons learned are valuable. Good luck with your journey!

    • Yes, learning has always been my passion, so I have to remind myself of that so I don’t shut myself down because of fear. Book learning is far more low key that life learning! We stay disappointed from failure far longer than we stay happy from success. But the moment is fleeting. Use it to become better than you are today!

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