Rajesh Kumar

Optimizing life, one day after the next

The Perfectionist's Ordeal

06 Jan 2007

There's an old saying, at least in English, that goes something like this:

Don't strive to be a perfectionist.

I agreed with the saying for a very long time. Little did I know I had been in the dark all the while. Sometime back however, a couple of years ago I'd say, I noticed something terribly wrong with the saying. Something funny and bizarre. I couldn't quite put my finger on what was actually wrong. But I knew something was wrong nonetheless.

It then struck me yesterday like a furious bolt of lightening. The darn saying wasn't wrong, it was incomplete!

The actual saying should have been:

Don't strive to be a perfectionist the first time!

That's right folks! The true perfectionist does try to get things right. Just not the first time. The true perfectionist isn't content until he gets it right. If he gets it right the first time, that's great. But if he doesn't, then he doesn't just submit his first try, which is at best mediocre. He keeps working on it constantly until it's perfect. P as in perfect. Not a speck to be seen. To him, a job isn't done until it's well done.

Now don't get me wrong here. I, by no means, am calling myself a perfectionist. Now what credentials do I have to preach about perfectionism, you may ask. None. None at all. My rebuttal: you don't have to be a scientist to teach science.

The perfectionist we're talking about here faces a lot of hurdles in life. Especially from his fellow imperfectionists. Those lazy imperfectionists who are perfectly satisfied with mediocrity. Who contend themselves by being among the crowd, not above. Whose entire lives are defined by mediocrity. For whom perfect is a word unheard of. For whom a perfect job is a blatant oxymoron. Cacophonic and ridiculous.

To the true perfectionist, everything is an optimization problem. Everything. Max cTx subject to ax ≤ b. He's not done until he's reached optimality. And it is at optimality that he is perfect.

Our perfectionist protagonist here has struggled innumerable times. Again and again he tries. He strives to find that one crucial missing ingredient. He is advised, time and again, that he's doing nothing but wasting his time. "Don't be a perfectionist," advises his know-it-all boss. Does our perfectionist protagonist heed his boss's words? Of course not. Nothing detains our resolute protagonist.

I have seen it. It is not easy to be a perfectionist. Not my kind of perfectionist. The true perfectionist.

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