“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.”
― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
There is an ancient tale told that Persian rug makers used to intentionally weave a flaw into each of their carpets. This intentional “Persian Flaw” was included because only God’s creations can be perfect and it would be arrogant for a mortal to aspire to perfection.
This intentional flaw also serves as a “signature” of their work and they embrace their imperfections.
“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”
― Salvador Dali
I will admit to flaws in myself. Not intentional. I know there are flaws in everything I write. They are unintentional too – typos and such – which I suppose also indicates a kind of human imperfection.
My wife has been working on a quilt for a granddaughter on the way. I told her about the Persian flaw which she found interesting. But she said she already sees flaws in the quilt – stitches and such – which I don’t see even when she points them out. I’m encouraging her to sew in a “signature” of some kind.
I wrote earlier about the Japanese aesthetic called wabi-sabi which includes an acceptance of imperfection. I called that earlier post “The Beauty of the Everyday” because part of the aesthetic (Dare I say “philosophy”?) is about seeing beauty in everyday things, and that includes the broken or flawed things.
This aesthetic of accepting something imperfect, impermanent or incomplete goes against a general lack of acceptance by many Westerners for those qualities.
Then again, I think about Marilyn Monroe. Though she is not the first or the only celebrity in this category, she’s the first one I noticed in my youth with a mole that was considered a “beauty mark.” That’s an interesting euphemism for what is clearly a flaw. It made her not imperfect but more human.
These flaws have commanded attention in royal courts and with celebrities and have even been artificially emulated. they attract attention. Looking for an image I could use of Marilyn and her beauty mark, I saw that reportedly in 1959 her signature mole, located on her lower left cheek, disappeared and was replaced with a mole on her chin – though I didn’t find evidence of that in images. Did she remove a real one? Was the real one real or applied?
Look at things in nature. Many are beautiful – flowers, stones, leaves, for example – and yet almost all are flawed in some way.
I think about how many Americans reject fruits, vegetables, baked goods etc, that look flawed. I have a garden that includes summer vegetables. I know there is nothing wrong with a tomato or pepper that looks less than perfect. Lately, I have seen and stores and suppliers that specialize in “ugly” or “misfit” produce. This is often the case with organic produce which is less perfect because it doesn’t have the pesticides and other chemicals that push growers to strive for perfection.
I don’t think people would describe me as a perfectionist these days, but I think I was one back in my youth. As a boy, I know that I would smash a car model I was building if I made a mistake gluing or painting. If not perfect, I didn’t want it at al. thank goodness I outgrew that trait. But you don’t need to be a perfectionist to suffer from perfection paralysis.
People who suffer from perfection paralysis may not seem “perfect.” In fact, they might be described as lazy, disorganized or unmotivated. That’s because when their desire for perfection isn’t met they can react to the stress and anxiety of that by becoming paralyzed when taking on a task and possibly not even being able to even start something.
This is a defense mechanism. It’s a fear of failing. It’s a fear of not being able to make or be perfect.
Clearly, this is not healthy. You can find articles and books about how to combat this drive for perfection and some people might even seek a therapist to help. Of course, you can have a healthy drive for perfection that leads you to do excellent work. The “secret” is that, like the Persian rugmakers and the practitioners of wabi-sabi, you need to know that perfection may not be realistic or obtainable – and that’s okay.
“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.” ― Gilda Radner