Dear SC200... It has been great! Here is my parting blog: "What does it mean to be Perfect?"


Well kiddos, it has been a great semester of blogging. While I took a hiatus for most of this period-- you guessed it!-- I'm back for one more. As I've pondered a topic for this last blog, I really had to convince myself that taking the time to write it would be worth it. On the surface, my overworked brain was telling me to take a nap instead of writing this. But, somewhere deep deep in my conscious, a little voice was SCREAMING at me to finish the class and finish the blogs.

I don't know if any of you have ever experienced this nagging little Jiminy Cricket, but mine has been a huge part of my life. Sure, it probably helped me get to where I am today, but BOY is it annoying. When I was younger, I let this voice speak a little too loud. I strove for absolute perfection and considered myself a "perfectionist." During the hell-year that some call "Junior year of high-school," that voiced was shut up pretty quickly. I was overloaded with work and I really couldn't be perfect at everything anymore. Since then, I've continued to struggle with whether I want to be this "perfectionist-Rachel" or "slightly-above-average-Rachel." 

Thus, my blog. What exactly does it mean to be a "perfectionist"? Is it really worth it? Are there side effects?

Maybe by the end of this blog I can make a decision for myself? Maybe you are struggling with the same thing? Well, here we go:

According to BBC's Science: Human Body and Mind, "Perfectionists are people who strive to meet very high standards in everything they do." Most "perfectionists" fall into two categories: normal perfectionists and neurotic perfectionists. Normal perfectionists "set high standards for themselves but drop their standards if the situation requires it" while neurotic perfectionists "ever feel that they have done their job well enough. They are very intolerant of mistakes and extremely self-critical."

So, now, you may ask... am I (or was I) a perfectionist? Well, according to "Dimensions of perfectionism across the anxiety disorders"-- published in the journal, Behaviour Research and Therapy, Volume 36, Issue 12, there are six dimensions to perfectionism:
1. Concern over mistakes- excessive worry about making a mistake for fear of others disapproving of them
2. Setting exceptionally high personal standards
3. Parental expectations- fear of meeting parents' expectations or being punished for mistakes
4. Continually doubting finished product
5. Extreme organization or cleanliness

Now that we know the characteristics of a "perfectionist" we have to ask ourselves, "is it healthy?" The book, Perfectionism, what's bad about being too good, by Miriam Adderholdt, Miriam Elliott, and Jan Goldberg, cites this figure: "A 1994 study of 9,000 managers-- 8,000 of whom considered themselves perfectionists--found that the perfectionists reported 75% higher illness rate (including gastrointestinal ailments, headaches, cardiovascular problems, and depression) than did their colleagues."  Similarly, a questionnaire-based study by NYU psychology professor Gordon Flett, published in 2004, revealed that some types of perfectionism may lead to both emotional, relationship, and physical health problems. Participants in the study expressed incidences of "depression, eating disorders, marital discord and even suicide." The article from the BBC also mentions health consequences: "alcoholism, social phobia, Coronary Heart Disease, OCD, Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, Anorexia nervosa, and sleep disorders."

Yikes! So, it is obviously not good for you. But how can we change this behavior--practically a social expectation--in our own lives?

Well, science does not really provide us an answer. Sure, anti-anxiety medication, sleeping pills, or an occasional Tylenol may help. But, the real cure is yet to be discovered. Until science gives us an answer, I think that the cure for perfectionism is just to slow down and re-examine what it means to be "perfect" because an individual seeking perfection is doomed to failure.

As we grew up, we learned some of our most valuable life lessons from fictional storybook and television characters--Bert and Ernie teach sharing; Elmo teaches caring; Bob the Builder teaches work ethic; Dora the Explorer teaches problem solving; and Pooh teaches the vainness of seeking perfection. It may sound silly, but Pooh's significance is deeper than the adorable bear that loves honey. In fact, Pooh is the perfect example of not striving for perfection. Pooh is the perfect Pooh because he is Pooh. He never seeks change but lives in the moment. According to The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff, Pooh is "P'u," (pronounced like Pooh) the Chinese symbol for the Uncarved Block. Essentially, the Uncarved Block theory states: everything in the universe has its own natural power. This power can easily be destroyed or lost when simplicity changes. Hoff writes, "no matter what he may seem to others, especially to those fooled by appearances, Pooh, the Uncarved Block, is able to accomplish what he does because he is simpleminded." Simply put, Pooh does not try to be anyone but himself--therefore he is the perfect Pooh by retaining his Inner Nature.

Inner nature you ask?

Inner Nature is basic instinct or being. Everyone's Inner Nature is like a snowflake--no two are alike. "Perfection" comes from preserving our core selves, our basic being. However, life--or Jiminy Cricket-- often leads us astray in the search perfection. In the end, living by inner nature is the closest any of us can get to perfection.

            I know my Jiminy Cricket continues to drive me further from my Inner Nature as I grow older and take on more stress in my life--I hardly have room to blog on this topic. However, it would be beneficial for every one of us (especially as we approach finals) to slow down and find the inner perfection that we are suppressing. Listen to the wisdom of Pooh and Benjamin Hoff. Consciously trying to pursue perfection only leads further away from happiness. And as of today, it us up to us, not science, to redirect our focus-- for our happiness, for our relationships, for our health, and for our futures.

Good luck to every one of you in the rest of your time at PSU! Here's signing off...

For the Glory,
Rachel Tedesco


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