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Jewish Thinking

Warning: I Am a Perfectionist!

Published on Sunday April 19th, 2020

Sarah, 35 years old, has always thrived in every area of her life. She’s a married woman, a devoted mom to three adorable children, as well as an accomplished marketing director for a growing cosmetics firm. And she knows how to navigate her multiple roles. She’s a supportive wife, overlooks the children’s homework, prepares Shabbat meals, including a number of salads and dishes, in addition to her career, where she performs impeccably.

Everyone thinks Sarah is amazing...except...Sarah! She is a perfectionist. And in her desire to succeed in every area, she is seldom satisfied with herself, even when she flourishes. And the worst is that, when she experiences failures, she feels like she’s amounted to nothing. She gets frustrated and overwhelmed. What’s the benefit of success if one is always unhappy?

Sarah is not a one-off case in our generation, a time when every consumer product needs to be perfect, so much so that we strive for perfectionism.

We tend to believe that success brings joy. But this is wrong: joy comes for the perception we build around our successes and failures.

On the other hand, perfectionism does not pull us upward, quite the contrary, it sucks away our joy of life.

Here are five principles to allow us to attenuate this bad trait and to experience things differently, and enjoy a more positive long-term effect.

Nobody’s Perfect

Only Hashem is perfect and moreover, he does not expect us to be perfect. The only thing he expects from us is to make the effort to improve our individual latent potential. Remember a basic principle: we didn’t come to the world to succeed but to try. Hashem expects us to do our best, according to our individual circumstances, our aptitudes and the opportunities that come to us.

In fact, the Torah recommends never to give up vis-a-vis the enormous task that seems impossible to fulfill. “It is neither too difficult, nor too unattainable. Not at all, “the thing (which I command you) is right next to you, on your lips and in your heart so you can observe it. “(Devarim: 30, 20)

Even as we question how much enjoyment we may derive from this world, the Midrash says: “A man dies with half of his wishes fulfilled”. (Kohelet Rabbah 1,34) . Once we internalize this principle, we must have no regrets when we missed an opportunity to have fun!

If We Never Failed, We Would Never Make Progress…

Can you imagine how boring a life without challenges would be? The most beautiful lives and the most inspiring people are those who endured incredible challenges, who indeed, failed but never gave up. As the wisest of men said: “A Tzaddik falls and rises seven times”. (Proverbs 24, 10)

One of the goals of failure is to help us know ourselves better, learn from our mistakes, and above all, trust Hashem every moment.

Searching for Perfection is Damaging to One’s Soul

We could be misled into thinking that perfection is a recommendation of the Yetzer Hatov, but this is not true: quite the contrary, it’s the Yetzer Hara who’s an agent that continuously recommends venues for improvement.

Its goal is to make us overlook certain essential truths:

  • Humility: Although we are all obliged to make efforts, paradoxically, the result is not in our hands but in the hands of Hashem. If, after making many efforts, we nevertheless fail, we must let go and accept with humility that God knows what’s best for us.

  • Joy: If you are upset because one of your children received a bad mark in school, you cannot rejoice over his brother’s good mark. Our brain can't deal with two emotions simultaneously. So, each time we feel frustrated, we overlook opportunities to rejoice. So we lose on two fronts.

  • Tikkun Olam (perfecting the world): God leads the world perfectly, however, he created an imperfect world! Why? So we would apply ourselves to make it better and more beautiful. For example, he created social inequality so we could practice the mitzvah of tzedakah and merit coming closer to Him.

Even In Our Practice of Judaism, We Should Not Seek to Become Perfect

Each mitzvah counts, even if it isn’t practiced perfectly in all its minute details. Of course, we must strive to do the best we can, but, as with the rest of our endeavors, not everything is in our hands. In addition, certain occurrences in our lives prevent us from doing a number of specific mitzvot, but we must accept these limitations with joy and Emunah.

We must equally avoid falling into horrible comparisons: each one of us is different. Each has a different way of connecting to Hashem. Some will pray with fervor, others will excel at welcoming guests, while some others will practice more tzedakah, etc.

It is thus very damaging to compare oneself to others because it prevents us from fulfilling the mission we were meant to achieve in this world.

Physical Perfection is Terribly Boring

If we were perfect, we would be bored to tears! In fact, beauticians and estheticians have proven that even a perfectly sculpted symmetrical face can be dull. So let’s feel happy about our imperfections: they make us beautiful, ladies!

In short, let’s not fall prey to these ideas, which are far from ideal because they spoil our lives! Let’s be less demanding with ourselves and with others and accept failure as part of the divine plan. And in the process, let’s recite a prayer to Hashem, thanking Him for encouraging us to improve every day of our lives!

Joy GALAM - © Torah-Box

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