Monastic Strategies: When Perfection is Not Enough

Monastic Strategies: When Perfection is Not Enough October 24, 2019

When Perfection is Not Enough

Some of us seem to believe spiritual life is about being perfect.

Many of us work hard to keep our imperfections concealed, hidden from other people. We may believe it is important for us to appear perfect, or at least to exceed expectations. Some of us think we look less spiritual the further away we are from perfection.

I see spiritual life in a different light. I do not necessarily advertise my own imperfections, or those of other people. Spiritual life has more to do with accepting ourselves, and others, as we are than with being perfect.

Spiritual life is remarkably realistic. Our expectations and our concealing just get in the way of real spiritual life. We cannot be our truest selves when we are trying to hide. We are not able to learn and grow when we are trying to conceal our imperfections.

For the people who inspire me, perfection is not enough. They practice recognizing and admitting they are not perfect in specific ways. Some people are able to appreciate and even celebrate their own imperfections, and those of others. We come to see expecting ourselves to be perfect is a form of spiritual death, not spiritual life.

While each of us has our own ideas about what it means to be perfect, there is a similarity to them. Much of the variety and diversity of life comes from our own personal imperfections. We learn ever deeper lessons as we grow in appreciating our imperfections and those of others.

Fortunately, spiritual life does not expect us to be perfect. It draws us into its rhythm and balance, revealing us to ourselves as we are.

We practice being our true selves in all our imperfection.

As we become our true selves we realize perfection is not enough.

Going Beyond Perfection

Some of us feel responsible to go beyond perfection.

Many of us believe everything, and everyone, depends on us. We need to be strong, we need to be wise, we need to be right, no matter what we face. Without us, nothing would work the way it is supposed to work.

Some of us believe our perfection is essential to whatever we do.

The future of organizations, families, other people, ourselves seems to rest on us going beyond perfect. There appears to be no margin for error, no room to relax. We feel we need to do everything all the time or things will fall apart.

It can be a terrible burden to feel we need to go beyond perfect. The people who approach life this way often feel responsible for protecting people from their imperfections. They experience the pressure of constantly being threatened, tested, needed. Their lives are filled with stress. It is almost impossible for them to find rest.

People who feel responsible to go beyond perfect are afraid to disappoint the people who love them. They believe that the worst could happen because of something they do or fail to do. Their lives are filled with fear of failing to meet expectations.

The highest expectations they face come from themselves.

This is not what I mean by going beyond perfection, by perfection not being en0ugh.

Feeling a need always to be perfect is a vicious cycle. Our expecting ourselves to be perfect, or more than perfect, is like an addiction. We find ourselves willing to do more and more to obtain our perfection fix.

What does expecting ourselves to be perfect do to us? How do our expectations of perfection affect the people around us?

Where can we go to get past a need for perfection?

Expectations of Perfection

There have been times when I believed it was not worth doing something unless I could do it perfectly. It is challenging to perform effectively when we expect that level of perfection. Being excellent or above average is still not enough.

Expecting myself to be perfect does not make me happier or my life better. It is much more enjoyable not to expect perfection.

My expectations of other people are shaped by what I expect of myself. It is much easier for me to be critical and discouraging of myself and other people when I expect perfection.

Reflecting on my expectations of perfection helps me change how I relate to them. Learning to let go of being perfect, and how to get it to let go of me, helps me treat people better.

It is neither healthy nor realistic for me to expect myself to be perfect. I am not a perfect person and have never been one.

Not expecting perfection from myself helps me see my true strengths more clearly. Letting go of expecting other people to be perfect allows me to see them more honestly.

Expecting Perfection Gets In the Way

It is a challenge to be grateful when we expect perfection.

When we focus on perfection we tend to focus on imperfections.

Are the aspects we see as imperfections actually ways we fall short of being perfect? There are many ways we can be excellent, and beautiful, and wise, which are not perfect.

None of us will ever achieve perfection. Our expectations do not make being perfect any more attainable. They make it less likely we will appreciate and enjoy what we do achieve.

I believe we go beyond perfection because it is not enough. Spiritual life draws us into appreciating and celebrating what we see as imperfections, the qualities which make us unique.

When we allow someone else to set an arbitrary standard for us to meet we are shortchanging ourselves.

Each of us is our own unique person. We are each becoming our own true selves.

When something is worth doing it is worth doing imperfectly.

The more I reflect on my experiences the harder it is for me to sort out what my imperfections are.

When will we realize perfection is not enough today?

How will we let go of our expectations of perfection this week?

[Image by B. J. Deming]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is and his email address is

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