Infected by the Perfection Virus

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Although images of perfection in people’s personal lives can cause unhappiness, images of perfect societies – Utopian images – can cause monstrous evil. In fact, forcefully changing society to conform to societal images was the greatest cause of evil in the twentieth century
~Dennis Prager

Perfection, by definition is a quality, trait, or feature of the highest degree of excellence (Dictionary.com). It is an ideal that represents the absolute peak and ought to be what everyone and everything strive for. When we hear the word perfection, we tend to associate it with a static end point. An ideal beyond which there is no scope of improvement. However, perfection is extremely subjective and transient in nature. For e.g., my perfect coffee would be black with a hint of cream and sugar; I am sure it will not be exactly same for you. And I would definitely take cold coffee over hot on a summer day. So, not only does the perfection of an object or idea change from person to person, it also changes for the same person over time. This makes me think about why the concept of perfection would exist at all.

It seems to me that perfection, even as an abstract concept, is the root cause of much unhappiness. How can people be happy when they are always comparing themselves to what they ought to be, the feeling that what they are isn’t enough. The average guy who has a desk job wants a body like the Hollywood actors. The guy at the gym, who has a great body, wants a high paying job like his lawyer friend. The lawyer wants a less stressful job like a primary school teacher. And, it never stops. There will always be something in your life that someone has more of. There will always be another person who is better than you at what you are doing. If you compare the bad experiences of your life to the good experiences of others, you are only setting yourself up for disappointment.

Another aspect of perfection is that it is purely one dimensional. For you, a girl might have the perfect face, but that doesn’t mean that she would be a good girlfriend. Your friend might have the perfect work life balance, but he might not have the level of income that you desire. As human beings we tend to look at other people from a distance and judge their life as perfect and thus, devalue our own in comparison. Just because a person works in the country’s top bank and drives a luxury car doesn’t mean his life is perfect. You are just seeing what you would like to have in your life and basing your judgement on that sole fact. Then why is it that our society is obsessed with perfection? Knowing that it only makes people unhappy and by the very definition, there is no achieving it.

Perfection does have a role to play, and a very important one at that. Any perfect thing is an epitome of experience or achievement for people to strive for. Perfection acts as an aspiration or motivation for people. The perfect home, the perfect car, the perfect holiday etc. are some rudimentary examples of things that most people work hard for. How the end result matches up to their expectation is irrelevant to their having worked hard to get to that perfect result. So, perfection is in the mind of a person, i.e., the idea of the perfect object is the motivator rather than the object itself. This means that other ideas can act as motivators too. Like the idea of being known as a successful businessman or a religious guru. When such ideas lead an individual to action that actually contributes value to other peoples’ lives, then how can the idea of perfection not be an important cog in the working of our society?

The problem, as I see it, is not the concept of perfection but the use it is being put to –  Comparison to perfection and degradation of reality. Instead of looking at the perfection and appreciating how much work and effort would have gone into making it so, people just think “I’m never going to be as good as that.” For e.g., your presentation might not be as good as the one a colleague of yours had made, so you give a nominal effort to make it because you think it is never going to be as good. Thus, you are ensuring it is never going to be as good. Instead, if you had given it your all and it still wouldn’t have been good enough, realize how much effort your colleague would have put into his presentation. Now, it is up to you to decide whether you want to increase your effort or to be satisfied with the current result. The chain of events hold true for your life as well. Are you willing to put in 18 hour workdays for 5 years straight to be able drive around in a Mercedes E Class? Are you willing to work without using up a single leave throughout the whole year so that you can take 3-4 weeks off to visit your dream destination? The point is, it is the easiest thing in the world to sit and cry about your life, looking at all the magazines and blogs about how people are living it up. Unfortunately, that seems to be the status quo in our society. Everyone looks at the results and ignores the effort. The end overshadows the means. The onus to become perfect is on you. You might never achieve perfection in whatever field you choose, but when you are better than the best, you will become the poster boy for perfection. Perfection then, unlike what everybody tells you, is in walking the path harder and longer than anyone else.

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Four ways to increase your worth at workplace

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Respect your efforts, respect yourself. Self-respect leads to self-discipline. When you have both firmly under your belt, that’s real power.
~Clint Eastwood

Whether or not you work under a boss, I believe the role of every person in the workplace is to be a relationship manager. There is no work that you can bring to fruition on your own, you need other peoples’ help. The better your relationship with your working colleagues, better will be the working synergy within the team. Even from an organizational point of view this sort of a workplace will require less micro management and improve productivity. From an individual’s point of view, working with people with whom you share a good relationship will keep you in a state of positivity. However, it is very easy to let yourself get carried away by the office politics and negativity. More often than not it is the working atmosphere rather than the actual work that causes dissatisfaction among employees.

Discussing these issues with friends/colleagues might make you feel heard and you might connect over the pain points in your lives, but you know the truth. It isn’t actually solving the problem. By sharing our pains and complains we bond with other people, it makes us feel righteous, and provide relief in the form of distraction. So, instead of always complaining about what are the wrong practices at your workplace and how you are the subject of unjust treatment, I suggest you do something about it.

I have noticed a few actions successful people practice that seem to always work in alleviating this negative outlook towards workplaces. A word of warning though. These are only going to be useful if you are genuinely interested in improving your performance at your job. It requires you to have courage and compassion to let go of the victim mentality and forgive other people when they do you wrong. Practice these consciously and you will find that it is not the workplace that changes, but your attitude towards it.

  • Cultivate gratitude
    I understand how much of a negative influence workplaces can be. They seem to devour your weekdays and cast a shadow even on the weekends. In such situations it is hard to be grateful towards your job. But, every time you start to feel sad/angry when you are at work remember the weekend that you enjoyed with your friends; or the new smartphone that you bought last month; or the one hour you spent gossiping with your colleagues during tea break. Remind yourself that this was possible because you are working and earning here. Close your eyes, take breath, and be thankful that your job offers you these small pleasures to enjoy.

  • Learn to say no
    It is one of the biggest pain points of people at work. Never say yes to the additional burden just to please everyone. It is the shortest way to make yourself, and consequently others extremely unhappy. You will overburden yourself and will not be able to focus on the important tasks. The way to say no when your boss/senior assigns you some urgent work is to show your them what you are currently working on and ask which project he would like to see completed first. Make him understand the disruption this urgent work will cause in this project and confirm with him the deadline extension. Despite what you may think, the breed of people who become bosses are not without a certain level of intelligence. They do not shoot down logical arguments presented in a polite manner.

  • Never accept or propagate baseless criticism
    Do not let comments like the following get you down. “Are you an idiot? You don’t even know how to do this?” or “For how long have you been working here? You still can’t do it right?” Always ask for clarification. Say something along the lines of, “I know I messed up and I apologize. Could you please tell me how you would have done it so that I don’t repeat the mistake?” If you just stand there with your head down and anger boiling inside of you, it is only an invitation to let your boss carry on in that fashion. Responding by blaming the mistake on others, even if it is justified, won’t lead to any solutions.  Accept your mistake, apologize, and ask for specific solutions respectfully. But, you have to realize that you aren’t perfect and are also prone to making mistakes. Consequently, avoid making such statements yourself. All you do by criticizing others is trade a potentially valuable working relationship for a moment of self importance.

  • Don’t take things personally
    Everybody has a tendency to blow things out of proportion. People exaggerate how many kilometers you run on the treadmill, describe their medical conditions as next to fatal, think of life as absolutely boring and horrible. This happens in workplaces too, especially the low trust environments. You tell everybody about how your colleague refused to help you when you always make time for him, your boss becomes the villain for the whole team when he asks you to redo a presentation. I understand that the other person may actually be at fault, but you have got to realize that it isn’t aimed at you personally. They get carried away by their emotions and in their endeavor to make a forceful point turn a simple mistake into ‘character assassination’. They don’t even realize how you might be reacting to it. Believe in yourself and your abilities. That is the only way to weather the storm of ‘character assassination’. You can not let other people define what you think of yourself.

No one can walk over you unless you let them. The easiest thing to do is let your boss treat you badly and then complain about it to everyone. When this keeps happening for a few times you start to use it as a crutch. It frees you from the responsibility of having to do anything, by blaming the boss for your bad performance/failure. “He hates me so no matter what I do it won’t be enough. Then why should I do anything at all?” When you get a lower pay raise than some of your colleagues it becomes, “He always favours those people, my work is always neglected.” Take a stand, assert yourself, but do not be a rebel without a cause. Unless you believe that you are worthy of respect and appreciation, do not expect it from others.

You have tried all the old tactics of the blame game, back biting, bitching etc. and it hasn’t worked for you. You can wish and expect the company or your boss to realize your value one day, but that is not in your control. What have you got got to lose by trying this new way? You might not get a pay raise or a promotion, your boss may still bite your head off every now and then or your colleagues may gossip about you. One thing I can guarantee though. Respect, compassion, and gratitude – for yourself as well as for others will ensure that you are happier and more confident than before. How much is that worth to you?