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Quest for perfection

Courtney Cox | Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Although all of my classes are intellectually stimulating, it seldom occurs that a class truly inspires self-reflection and leads to subsequent revelations about my life outside of the pursuit of academic fulfillment. My seminar this semester is different. Each day comes with small bits of information about how to recognize complete personal fulfillment and what can be done to attain it.

Today’s class was no exception. We discussed the attributes of a self-actualized human being, as described by psychologist Abraham Maslow. The one characteristic that stuck out the most was that no self-actualized person is perfect.

It is a lesson that everyone must learn in life, but it is often difficult to truly believe that living a happy life does not require perfection.

Not only does a happy life not require perfection, it is perhaps impossible to live a happy life if one is constantly seeking perfection. No one spends their time invested solely in one activity; we all spread our time commitment across different pursuits (presumably pursuits that are meant to bring us closer to becoming a happy, fulfilled person). If we belabor all of these pursuits with the pressure to perform perfectly in every aspect of our life, we leave no room to truly enjoy what we are doing.

“Black Swan,” an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture, analyzes the quest for perfection and the damage it can have on a person’s psyche. Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a technically perfect ballerina, yet she does not fit easily into the role of the Black Swan considering her mild mannered, submissive temperament. She abuses herself physically in order to cope with the pressure of changing her natural character to fit the role. Even worse than the physical effects of her transformation are the effects on her mental health. She begins to hallucinate and make violently quick transitions between a normal, meek personality, and a much more aggressively seductive version of herself. Her quest for perfection both literally and physically kills her.

The lessons we can learn from such art and psychology are clear, but we can only truly learn that perfection is superfluous to happiness when we allow ourselves to enjoy our imperfections. The best way to do this is to try something we have never done simply because it seems enjoyable.

Take up a sport that you’ve never played simply because you want to have fun, or try taking an art class to relax and relieve tension. Some people are talented athletes or artists, but not everyone has to be talented to enjoy playing a sport or completing a painting. It’s a simple concept to understand, but the challenge comes from allowing ourselves to enjoy things despite our imperfections or perhaps even because of them.