It’s 2 a.m. The long corridor is completely dark. All the doors are closed. Just at the end of the corridor in the space under the door a light can be seen. On and off. On and off…
A little boy is alone in that room, standing in front of the light switch. On and off. On and off. It keeps pressing it. Its face is full of trouble and concentration. There’s nothing else in the world for it in that moment, just the switch. On…2secs…off…2secs…on…1.5secs..off. “Arghh” It stops and starts again – on…2secs…off…2secs…on…1secs..off… it started crying. The boy couldn’t get it right. It had to turn the light on and off exactly 10 times with 2 seconds in between each switch, otherwise it couldn’t go to bed. It had been standing there for more than an hour now and every time it got it wrong it had to start from the beginning, getting more tense and worried that it will get it wrong again. It kept happening.
That boy was me.
You might be thinking “why the heck would you want to do something so random as switching the light within such rules before you can go to bed”. The answer is – I don’t know. I grew up with having these little obsessions – closing the door of my room a number of time; touching my ear a number of times, etc. The sequences used to get more and more elaborate the more mistakes I would make in one of them. If I would get the switching of the light “wrong” it meant I had to go out of the room, come back in and start again.
Now you’re thinking “wtf, this is insane”. Yes, it really felt that way. I never understood why it was happening. I know one thing though – I was completely obsessed with getting every single detail of every single thing the way “it should be” according to my random understanding. You say it’s crazy and I agree. Even though we don’t reach the same level of obsession in our daily lives, we are trapped within the same principle that I was following – perfectionism.
The world we live in is absolutely full with things that are imperfect in the sense that we cannot control them. I now believe that is what makes it beautiful in the way it is, even though I get angry at it sometimes. But we still strive for perfection – in sport, in our house arrangement, in our finances, in our health. We want everything to be ticking exactly like a clock, striking each second in perfect harmony and order. Every time it gets delayed a bit it feels like a failure, or at least the day is gloomier.
But this is unrealistic. We cannot get every detail, every time perfectly, and I know it’s obvious, but I forget it too. Even today I still have the residue of those childhood years, I am still extremely tuned to certain details. But there is a difference now, I’ve managed to learn how to put that on the side and focus on mainly moving forward. It’s not about perfection anymore, it’s simply about putting one foot in front of the other.
Perfection is an illusion, chasing it can become a prison. You don’t need to be on the level described in that story to get the negative side effects like stress, exhaustion and frustration. But by simply seeing how the world is and coming to terms with it can make life much more pleasant. What if we could sit for a moment and simply observe, without trying to force a change. Like a bystander that has no agenda just paying attention. And then focus not on the failure (the lack of control over the situation/events/etc that you’ve just experienced) but rather on making progress – imperfect or not, it will get you closer to where you want to be. Stopping and looking at each detail, trying to make it the best you could – a lifetime can be spent that way on the first step of the journey you’ve decided to take.
For me it was the light switch that night, but you have your own obsessions and fears. “If it’s not perfect than it shouldn’t be at all”. “If not everything, then nothing”. That’s a reckless mentality, one that hurts you and those around. The world doesn’t care whether you get it right every time or not. The thing that counts is how long you keep going for, because even if you trip and fall but keep going you will still get there eventually. And most importantly – reaching with a few bruises is much better than quitting altogether.
Perfectionism is another wall and you don’t need to climb it.