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by Margaret Fiero
I’m not much of a fan of corporate-speak – unconcerned as I am with the movement of my cheese – but recently I heard a corporate slogan that spoke to me: “perfect is the enemy of better.” It seems so contrary to what we are always told, that at first it’s hard to digest. But then I think about all the times I have felt I should master a skill right when I first try it, or give up. Or even if I work at something and improve, how disappointed I am that I’m still not “perfect.” What’s wrong with better? This constant self-criticism even applies to self-care. I beat myself up for not getting to the gym as much as I “should.” But just because I may not be a crossfit maniac doesn’t mean I can’t squeeze in some exercise at home. If I can’t eat right all of the time, I can still eat right some of the time. I know that perfection doesn’t exist, yet I can’t help but feel dismayed by myself when I don’t reach it. The worst thing is to get so overwhelmed by not being perfect, that you chuck it all and just walk away.
Maybe it’s part of our national makeup. We are told from a young age that we live in “the best” country and that we must strive to be the best. Whether or not the U.S. is the best country is debatable, and instilling in children that nothing less than the best will suffice is unhelpful to say the least. It’s exactly this black-and-white thinking that leads to both individual suffering and societal ills. I’m not knocking the competitive spirit, it’s just that when everything is contingent on success, what happens if you fail?
In the 1950’s, clinical psychologist Albert Ellis put forth the philosophy of unconditional self-acceptance, which proclaims this assumption regarding human worth: “I exist, I deserve to exist, I am a fallible human and I can choose to accept myself unconditionally with my flaws and mistakes, with or without great achievements – simply because I am alive, simply because I exist.”
His philosophy goes so far as to decry the concept of self-esteem as “one of the greatest of all human disturbances,” because it’s often dependent on praise by others. What happens to your self-esteem if you don’t receive praise, or do receive criticism? As a recovering perfectionist, I appreciate the philosophy of unconditional self-acceptance, and wish that it were more valued in our culture. Rather than pushing for the achievement of outward success, whether it be through acquiring financial wealth, power, prestige, or outer beauty, let’s celebrate the success of just living and accepting ourselves and others. I’m going to try to do that more, all the while singing off key the lyrics of the classic Beatles song, “It’s getting better all the time.”
Brought to you by Just Mind, counselors in Austin who are working to provide their clients with the best care possible.