On Perfection and Hell

I think a lot of people wake up every day striving for perfection – the perfect job, the perfect spouse, the perfect home, the perfect body, the perfect day. But what do we mean by that? What is perfection?

When we talk about perfection, the common ground we generally have is to think of a time and a life with no problems. Utopia, in essence. But perfection doesn’t mean a place with no wonder, no mystery; those are the very things that make perfection possible. So what we forget is that we’re in utopia already; a state without wonder, mystery, and longing isn’t perfection, it’s hell.

When I think about perfection, I don’t think about a particular state, but about the journey. Today isn’t perfect, but no day or object or person or concept ever will be. I find perfection along the way – in fond memories, in good friends, in great experiences. At the time, we rarely recognize these things as perfect, and in one classic sense, of course they aren’t. Everyone, everything is flawed. But experiencing joy despite the flaws – that’s perfection.

And that’s the paradox of perfection – we’re striving for something that we don’t really want, and that doesn’t really exist.

In between drafts of this post, I was walking through The Strand and picked up a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country. As usual, he captures things far more poignantly than most anyone else can:

When you get to my age, if you get to my age, and if you have reproduced, you will find yourself asking your own children, who are themselves middle-aged, “What is life all about?” … I put my big question about life to my son the pediatrician. Dr. Vonnegut said this to his doddering old dad: “Father, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.”


One thought on “On Perfection and Hell

  1. So true. Too often we find ourselves pursuing ends: “I’d be happy if only I had x.”
    But the fact is, we as humans are never satisfied with what we have; that would be boring. We always crave new experiences and new achievements.
    If one learns to let go of the notion of Happily Ever After, and embraces the constant process of learning and growing, one can feel a lot more self-satisfaction.


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