The Pursuit of Perfection
George Orwell, an English novelist and essayist, once said that, “the essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection.” With all due respect to Mr. Orwell, I have to disagree. I believe that one characteristic that defines us all is that we each want something greater than what we already have. We constantly seek to better ourselves in any way that we can, and we endeavor to bring ourselves to the ultimate level of perfection. That I believe is the very essence of it. Perfection in itself is the general goal that we all strive for, a goal that can never be reached; and it is in the pursuit of that goal that we find our true satisfaction.
Probably the most common place that we students deal with the issue of perfection is in the classroom. We constantly feel pressure from our parents and teachers who push us to do the best we can. It seems like even the class itself is a giant monster, looming over us, watching your every move, waiting to fail you should you slip up. But even more than that, we feel the pressure that we exert on ourselves. I myself feel the need to make everything I do perfect, and as a result I end up torturing myself for days. My sister is much the same way, only to a greater extent. She stays up into the wee hours of the night so that she can get every word or every calculation perfect. When I asked her why it was she thought she did this, she told me, “I want to do my best. And for me that means perfect. It’s a kind of compulsion of mine that I have to finish everything.”
“So then,” I asked her, “would you say then that nothing’s finished until it’s perfect?”
She thought a minute before responding. “Yes,” she decided, “You are your own greatest critic. You’ll always find something with your own work that’s wrong. That’s why I like math (she excels at math in school), because when you get everything right, then there’s nothing to improve on. It’s perfect.” We are all driven to seek perfection. It is the only way we can be satisfied.
My own fifteen-year-old sister said it as well as I ever could. And she brought up my next point: perfection is in the eye of the beholder. It’s like the common saying, “an artist’s work is never finished.” I spent many hours in the art and music departments of Yorktown High School. I can’t recall a single performance or project that could not have been improved by some slight tuning, or a minor change in color. Everyone, if they bother to look, can and will find something in anything that they can improve on. Think of the last project you turned in to a class. Is there anything you would have changed to get that extra point? Or what about the last conversation you had. Did you say something dumb, or something you regret? Nothing is without flaw.
One pattern I recognized when interviewing people was a continual reference to God. I asked Alyssa Landis, a classmate of mine, what first thing came to her mind when I said the word perfection she responded with, “Eden.” I asked the same question to Sarah Fellure, also a fellow classmate, and she answered, “God.” When I asked Miss Fellure why that was, she responded with the following, “Because he doesn’t make mistakes. With God, everything’s for a reason.” I was raised in a Church of Christ, a nondenominational church that is often known for its knowledge of the scriptures. In the bible classes and worship services we were taught that Christ was the only perfect human who ever lived. This is a common teaching among most Christian churches. With this teaching, Christians are expected to do their best to emulate Christ and the way that he lived his life, knowing all the while that this is an impossible feat. It is the basic philosophy of Christian teachings. These teachings are now widespread throughout our culture and continue to be the basis for most of the morals that society values today. If people didn’t try to be these perfect moral beings, then there would be no cause for laws or judgment of crimes. The world would be in moral chaos, although sometimes I don’t believe it’s already too far from it.
Throughout my day-to-day life I feel the pressures of perfection. It’s hard for a person so surrounded by people throughout the day to ignore it. I can’t help but notice that the tall guy is a better public speaker than me, or that the girl with the pink highlights has a better fashion sense than I do, and then worry about whether or not everyone else notices it too. My idle moments are spent pondering the miniscule flaws that I can’t stand about myself and can never seem to get out of my head. I find that it’s usually the little things like that, not the big things, which bother me the most.
We can never reach perfection. We are all flawed as humans, and we show it everyday. But the one thing that binds us all together, the thing that makes us human, is our drive for something better. We know that it’s rare, and we know that it’s unattainable. But we also know that without it as our goal we are lost. Without this instinctive force to push us forward, we are nothing but useless lumps that could never accomplish anything. This is our need and our passion. This is the pursuit of perfection.