Arc of a Diver

Source: greglouganis.com
Source: greglouganis.com

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about perfection lately.  After unconditonal love, security, and happiness, I believe it is one of the most illusive of desires.

Perfection can only really be a singular attribute.  It is usually noticeable by one characteristic: how something is done by someone else.  We will occasionally use the word in a sweeping way to describe an individual in a complimentary or derisive manner (“she’s just so perfect at everything“).

We tend to consider perfection — or what closely resembles it– as we look at others.  This is when we mistakenly try to measure up by comparing ourselves to those who are handsome, prettier, stronger, smarter, or more talented.  Pick a quality and someone probably has it over you in that department.  We do this mostly when we’re younger, of course.  It is the time when uncertainty and a lack of confidence are most overwhelming. Hopefully as we all get older, we eventually learn to accept the qualities and abilities that we do have.

Acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re happy with the status quo, of course.  It just means that we acknowledge our limitations.  I sensed this myself about ten years ago when I saw an absolutely horrendous-looking picture of Brad Pitt in a supermarket tabloid. They chose the worst picture to probably raise his hackles.  But what I saw was that even at his worst, there is no way I was ever going to measure up to ‘ol Brad.  He’s just that handsome.

Source: hollywoodreporter.com
Source: hollywoodreporter.com

Although I still think that Mr. Pitt, that bastard, has been blessed more than is possibly fair, he still doesn’t represent “perfection” to me.  My two examples are Greg Louganis (pictured at the top) and Chuck Berry (below).  Both excelled in skills for which I have neither an interest nor a facility.  It was simply a joy to watch their genius and grace at diving and creating beautiful music respectively.  Even if they are no longer perfect, we have film, video, and recordings to remember when they were.

Louganis is to me the absolute standard of perfection for his amazing performances in the Los Angeles and Seoul Olympic games of 1984 and 1988.  With an agility that equaled beauty, he made absolutely no mistakes in his dives, particularly in the Los Angeles games.  In 1988 he repeated his incredible feats even after striking his head on a springboard in a preliminary round. That he went on to win gold medals after that near-tragic incident was nothing short of incredible.

Chuck Berry in my opinion is the unheralded king of rock and roll.  That moniker officially belongs to Elvis, of course.  But for me it’ll always be Berry because of his perfection at crafting songs that are timeless.  Such was his creativity that NASA eventually included one of his recordings on their Voyager mission, and it’s currently out there floating in space!  Chuck alone established a guitar-based cadence for rock and roll that hadn’t yet been invented. He transformed rhythm and blues into danceable numbers aimed straight at a white, teenaged audience starving for something beyond the crooner idols of the time.  His electric guitar solos were unique, daring, and in later years the most imitated by those who followed.  Songs such as Maybellene, Roll Over Beethoven, and my personal favorite, Johnny B. Goode are the soundtrack of early rock and roll.  Especially for the time period, what made him unique was that he was that he wrote and performed his own tunes.  The Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Beach Boys all later singled him as a major influence, and they all covered his songs in tribute.  John Lennon famously remarked that “rock and roll” should instead simply be called “Chuck Berry.”

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

My lovely wife shows perfection nearly every time she enters the kitchen.  As posted earlier, Gorgeous has a confidence and zen in creating meals that go beyond mere cooking.  They are edible works of art.  There is nothing that she won’t attempt in any cuisine be it eastern, western, southern, or northern.  She can cook or bake, and prefers all ingredients to be fresh, and, if possible, always made from scratch.  Store-bought pasta or noodles?  Sacrilegious!  Last weekend in between clients, she whipped up a dough in the early afternoon.  She then ran back into her office to prepare for a phone reading, and all day long I stared at this dough sitting covered in a bowl on the counter wondering what would be made.  Later that evening, she was tossing a pizza before my very eyes, and then later apologized because it was a “sloppy” effort.  A pizza made from scratch and she considered it sloppy.  She has no idea that burning a can of Chef Boyardee, for dinner, because you’re too busy reading your e-mail is sloppy.  Believe me, I know about sloppy meals first hand.

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Gorgeous’ wonderful “sloppy” pizza

I long ago realized that there is no area in which I am perfect.  Briefly in junior high, I won a couple of hurdles races on my track team, and my coach incorrectly used that word to describe my success.  He did me no favors.  By the time I got to high school, I was surrounded by taller, bigger, and faster runners.  I was lucky enough to still win a handful of races, but “perfect” was not an accurate way to describe my feats.  The real lesson I learned is that there is an advantage to being around others who are better than me– they force me to work harder.  That in turn eventually gave me a confidence and inner-strength to later find my own definition of success.  One doesn’t need to be perfect at anything to find satisfaction.

Nonetheless, we all collectively and obsessively demand perfection from others in our daily lives. Whether they’re politicians, airline counter clerks, or grocery cashiers we are intolerant of their mistakes.  Hindsight being 20/20, we often compare a setback or unhappiness to a place or time when we choose to believe things might have been perfect.  In my own eyes, Barack Obama is no Hubert Humphrey, George W. Bush is no Barry Goldwater, Krispy Kreme is no substitute for my hometown bakery, and Matthew Perry is no Jack Klugman or Walter Matthau.  I am the master of what I deem perfect.

Greg Louganis, Chuck Berry, and Gorgeous.  They’re on my short list.  Who’s on yours?

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13 thoughts on “Arc of a Diver

  1. Every time I think someone is perfect they disappoint me so I try not to label. However, there are aspects of people that I envy. My husband is obnoxiously devoid of noticing what’s going on around him. We can come home from a party and I chatter about all the news and he never heard any of it even though we was standing next to me. Some of it I picked up through innuendos but some was said out loud. However, his kindness (when he gets that there’s a problem) and willingness to help are perfect. He overtips in restaurants that pay waitresses low (his daughter was a waitress through college so he gets it) and is generous to friends. Perhaps it all balances.

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  2. “Perfection consists not in doing extraordinary things, but in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. Neglect nothing; the most trivial action may be performed to God.”
    -Angelique Arnauld

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  3. There are many books, studies and articles that speak on the personality traits of individuals. Perfectionism, on which your post is based, is often a trait found in the first-born or only child, but can be found in children of a different birth order depending on the age gap between siblings, which can cause a last or middle born child to act like a first or only child if the older siblings are grown and out of immediate/constant contact to influence behavior directly.

    This perfectionism stems from the fact that the first born or only child closely mimics the parents for they are the first role models — no dilution from other siblings — parents are the ones they aspire to emulate. Everything they set out to do is to earn the praise of the parents and this caries over into their adult lives as they often grow up to be high-achieving people-pleasers.

    I am one such first born, born to a mother who wanted everything to be perfect — a mother who hardly ever gave praise but could find the mistakes at the drop of a hat. The pressure to achieve was enormous and so my standards were programmed to be set very high even if I wanted to be a little less so. A phrase I used constantly was, “that’s perfect!”, but now that I am a million miles away, am in my own home and raising my own children ALONE, I’ve come to realize that try as I might there are simply not enough days in the week or hours in the day to get everything done, let alone get them done perfectly. So of late, in my haze/drunken stupor of fatigue I’ve begun to use a new phrase, “that’s good enough!” I know it’s not perfect but I need to cut myself some slack in my quest for self-preservation.

    I find human behavior and related aspects of how the mind works very fascinating, and as such thoroughly enjoyed The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are by Dr. Kevin Leman, as it describes all the traits (first vs middle vs last born) in great detail.

    My take away from your post, as you so rightly said, is that “one doesn’t have to be perfect at anything to find satisfaction”, and even if ‘perfect’ is what I want and have the strength/will to achieve some days, ‘good enough’ on the days I’m too tired to see straight is okay too…yup, it all evens out!

    In response to your question: I no longer see people as perfect and I now know no-one is but instead we are all Perfectly Flawed.(See my post called Perfectly Flawed from a while back)

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      1. Yeah, it’s quite fascinating. Since reading that book I use that information when dealing with my employees and kids. It helps me understand why they (and I ) act the way they do and how I need to respond for a positive outcome for all!

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  4. My short list? Judith Henderson. I know, the name isn’t exactly rolling off every person’s lips, but for me, she is someone that I hold in very high esteem. She has the unique ability to see only the excellence in the people she interacts with, and by doing so, she draws out their absolute best. Even though she lives in a different state, and we rarely interact these days, and I haven’t physically set eyes on her in nearly fifteen years, she has always been a sort of “as close to perfection as is likely to exist” benchmark for me. Which isn’t to say that I don’t equally embrace her “not so perfect” traits as well. She’s human, after all. Which only makes her more lovable.

    Others? Maya Angelou. My grandfather, who was a hard-working man who made custom cabinetry by hand, and who liked to smile. He had a way of making even grumpy people smile. The depth of his kindness seemed to have no limits. And did I mention he liked to smile?

    Perfection is a tricky thing. Some people lean so hard towards trying to reach it, that they forget to enjoy whatever successes come their way. These days, I think my idea of perfection has evolved, in that I’m not necessarily looking for someone to be always on point, but rather, I admire when they are able to recognize where there is room for improvement. I guess for me, perfection is about having the ability to recognize your imperfections. 🙂

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  5. The raging perfectionist in me seems to be giving way to impending old age now. Whereas years ago I would have beat myself up about a perceived failing, I now tell myself that, as long as I gave it my best, I did all I could.

    ‘Perfect’ is a measure that has no factual basis on which to compare it to. Each person has a unique understanding of what perfection means to them. I think that rather than trying to be perfect, we should all be concentrating on making sure that each day we live our lives in the best way that we can.

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