The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life - Tal Ben-Shahar (2009)


God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can change, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr

My name is Tal, and I am a Perfectionist.

Accepting that perfectionism will always be part of my life has been liberating. Paradoxically, recognizing that perfectionism never goes away completely makes me more of an Optimalist.

There is no moment in life—as, in the past, I had hoped there would be—when we switch from perfectionism to optimalism, when we cease to reject failure and painful emotions and, at times, success. We do, however, have the potential to increase the number of moments when we accept that we have fallen short, when we embrace our hurt feelings, and when we allow ourselves to appreciate and enjoy our accomplishments.

Perfectionism and optimalism are not distinct ways of being, an either-or choice, but rather they coexist in each person. And while we can move from perfectionism toward optimalism, we never fully leave perfectionism behind and never fully reach optimalism ahead. The optimalism ideal is not a distant shore to be reached but a distant star that guides us and can never be reached. As Carl Rogers pointed out, “The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.”1

Almost two decades have passed since I first resolved to deal with my perfectionism, and the struggle continues. However, the struggle is not a Sisyphean one. There has been real progress, and the quality of the struggle has changed over the years. Today I enjoy more of the journey and I accept—sometimes even marvel at—the downs and the ups. Perfectionism is a part of me, and so is optimalism. And today, I can say, without violating Aristotle’s law of noncontradiction:

My name is Tal, and I am also an Optimalist.