post written by: Marc Chernoff

Why Our Search for Perfection Fails Us


The Search for Perfect Fails Us

Tonight, over a couple of cocktails, one of my good friends spilled her guts to me about all of her failed attempts to find the perfect lover.  Although her story was about her unique personal experiences, I couldn’t help but feel like I had heard the same story told by others in completely different circumstances a hundred times before.

It’s a story about the endless quest for perfection.  And I think it carries a valuable life lesson, so I’d like to retell it to you in my own words.

The Perfect Woman

Once upon a time, an intelligent, attractive, self-sufficient woman in her late twenties decided that she wanted to settle down and find a husband.  So she journeyed out into the world to search for the perfect man.

She met him in New York City at a bar in fancy hotel lobby.  He was handsome and well spoken.  In fact, she had a hard time keeping her eyes off of him.  He intrigued her.  It was the curves of his cheek bones, the confidence in his voice, and the comfort of his warm, steady hands.  But after only a short time, she broke things off.  “We just didn’t share the same religious views,” she said.  So she continued on her journey.

She met him again in Austin a few months later.  This time, he was an entrepreneur who owned a small, successful record label that assisted local musicians with booking gigs and promoting their music.  And she learned, during an unforgettable night, that not only did they share the same religious views, he could also make her laugh for hours on end.  “But I just wasn’t emotionally attracted to him,” she said.  So she continued on her journey.

She met him again in Miami at a beachside café.  He was a sports medicine doctor for the Miami Dolphins, but he easily could have been an underwear model for Calvin Klein.  For a little while, she was certain that he was the one.  And all of her friends loved him.  “He’s the perfect catch,” they told her.  “But we didn’t hang in the same social circle, and his high profile job consumed too much of his time,” she said.  So she cut things off and continued on her journey.

Finally, at a corporate business conference in San Diego, she met the perfect man.  He possessed every quality she had been searching for.  Intelligent, handsome, spiritual, similar social circles, and a strong emotional connection – perfect.  She was ready to spend the rest of her life with him.  “But unfortunately, he was looking for the perfect woman,” she said.

The Story of Our Lives

As human beings, we often chase hypothetical, static states of perfection.  We do so when we are searching for the perfect house, job, friend, or lover.

The problem, of course, is that perfection doesn’t exist in a static state.  Because life is a continual journey, constantly evolving and changing.  What is here today is not exactly the same tomorrow.

That perfect house, job, friend, or lover will eventually fade to a state of imperfection.  Thus, the closest we can get to perfection is the experience itself – the snapshot of a single moment held forever in our minds – never evolving, never growing.

So rather than chasing an imaginary perfection, let’s  start chasing life by flipping past the imperfections found on the cover of every entity we encounter and into the blank pages of possibility waiting beneath the cover that will eventually tell the story of our lives.

With a little patience and an open mind, over time, I bet that imperfect house evolves into a comfortable home.  That imperfect job evolves into a rewarding career.  That imperfect friend evolves into a steady shoulder to lean on.  And that imperfect lover evolves into a reliable lifelong companion.

Photo by: Farfie

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28 Comments

  • “But unfortunately, he was looking for the perfect woman”

    :)))

    Those people are not looking for perfection. They are looking for a perfect excuse to stay in their love comfort zone. :)

  • Well said, “we often chase hypothetical, static states of perfection”

    …. assuming things or relationship as perfect is our way of gaging it…universe has its own rule.

  • I like this topic. When you are only searching for and expecting perfection, you will almost always be in a state of let-down. You cloud your ability to notice and appreciate things for the way they are.

    There is an element of excitement in the imperfections. In business, imperfections usually mean there is an opportunity to develop and solution and this is what business is all about. Imperfection must exist in order for us to appreciate the things that are truly amazing in our lives.

  • Thank you so much for this. The dangers of holding out for the “perfect” anything can never be overstated. It is also a problem for those individuals on the other side that get hurt by the people of both genders on the futile quest for perfection.

  • The perfect is the enemy of the good, Voltaire says. The only trick is balancing that important truth with the equally true concept that good/okay can be the enemy of great/amazing. In other words, how to let go of discarding everything in search of perfection without “settling”? I think there is a balance there in which you can fall in love with truly amazing things and embrace them without trying to make them be perfect… but it can be hard to find that balance if you are fixated on either the need for perfection or the sense that you aren’t good enough to deserve truly good things.

  • Wonderful topic, and great timing. It really is hard for people to grasp this concept yet alone see it in themselves, and usually when they/we do, it is due to some negative experience that forces us to REALLY look deep within ourselves and way of thinking…

    Luv this quote, “…perfection doesn’t exist in a static state. Because life is a continual journey, constantly evolving and changing. What is here today is not exactly the same tomorrow… imperfection must exist in order for us to appreciate the things that are truly amazing in our lives”

  • Perfection can be paralyzing, whether you are talking about a project at work or looking for your true love. Settling is not the answer, but being willing to do a little bit of work on your own - adjusting and learning from another person’s quirks - is what makes the journey so interesting.

    More than perfection, finding someone who is as willing as you are to learn and adapt to the eventual changes we all go through is what makes “happily ever after” possible (says the woman who learned it the hard way on marriage #1).

  • Fantastic post! Excellent topic and so well written.

    I think the trouble is that we just have the wrong definitions of ‘perfect’. ‘Perfect for me’ would be more accurate. Even ‘perfectly flawed’ is acceptable. Flawed in just the right ways.

    It’s a sad thing when we take ourselves out of the running because we don’t see our own perfection. Our own unique qualifications to excel at anything we wish. Even a relationship with a perfect man/woman.

  • :) such a true n real post….

    these kinda posts r really needed to keep oneself grounded to reality n simple acts of life and everything that makes us feel more human and not just driven by the materialistic possessions in today’s world

    “nothings perfect - n even if it is : its wont be constant , as there is only on thing in life that remains constant n that is CHANGE”

    :)

    NJOI n have a gr8 day.

  • I used to be a perfectionist but thankfully I learned that perfectionists are doomed to failure as an early lesson. My first step to shed my quest for perfection was to redefine “perfect”. My new definition stated that perfection requires growing and evolving since we don’t live in a static world, and therefore we have to make mistakes in order to be perfect. No one can grow and never make a mistake. Also, consider that the “perfect” stamps/coins/etc aren’t the ones that become valuable collectables, but instead the ones with rare flaws.

  • Great post Marc, I like the ending of that story. I think it teaches us a lesson that we should be open to all possibilities and consider adapting to other people. It is kind of selfish to expect perfection from another person when we may not be perfect ourselves.

  • Nice post. Chasing perfection is definitely a downfall, but in this day and age - could we settle? I’m not so sure. Personally, I feel I’ve got to constantly change and better myself - for myself.

  • As always, thanks so much for the added insight, everyone.

    We love reading your comments. They truly inspire us.

    ;-)

  • Thank you for this - I love your perspective on the idea of perfection, and the evolution of the so-called imperfections in our lives. Very refreshing, and timely for me! Inspiring!

  • Great and very interesting post. It really is all about your perception and definition of perfection. I thought your advice to overlook what we see as imperfection and look much deeper at the possibilities was poignant. Sometimes we do have to push ourselves to look at things from another perspective.

  • Enjoyed reading your post. Sounds eerily familiar. Ex-perfectionist, what helped me become aware and change my life around one step a time was the notion that perfect is the lowest standard there is. We (just) know perfect is not possible, so we’ve got all the excuses for not even attempting built right in before we even start. Perfect! Now I live by good is good enough, and everything worth doing is worth doing poorly until you learn to do it well. Less than perfect, much better. [PS. Before I was perfect I had a high opinion of myself, but now that I’m perfect, no more … lol]

  • I personally am always trying to improve myself and keep growing as a person, and that’s all I really want from someone that I am with. Not perfection, but growth! I think we should set some base guidelines, and then see how we feel about the people who meet those.

  • When I was younger I was looking for perfection, in myself, and this caused me so much anxieties. Later I realized I could feel better and be better just being me, and forgot trying to be perfect in the eyes of others. Besides, if those who are not perfect were cast out it would be a very empty world.

    “The finest lives, in my opinion, are those who rank in the common model, and with the human race, but without miracle, without extravagance.” - Michel de Montaigne

  • Thank you for the lovely thoughts, I adore reading your articles, they inspire me.

    I think If you are happy of what you have got, this is perfection and this is the standard you should be looking for, put your own standards to your life.. Life is getting so complicated around us that we forget what we should be doing to live it.

  • I usually agree with the spirit of your posts, but this one sounds too much like settling to me. Maybe any of these men would be “good enough,” but which one would you suggest she pursue, the one she isn’t emotionally attracted to, or the one with differing religious views, or the workaholic?

    Thing is, I don’t think the woman in the story was looking for someone “perfect” so much as someone who met her personal criteria. And we all have different criteria. Why would I choose to spend my time, my life, with someone who was emotionally distant, or a workaholic, or an alcoholic, or physically unappealing to me?

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I think most of what you said in “The Story of Our Lives” part is spot on; maybe the story just didn’t relate that well for me. Perfection is a sort of pipe dream, but that doesn’t mean settling in the hopes that maybe he’ll change, or maybe it won’t be so bad.

  • I do not believe in perfection as part of a happy life. First of all it is impossible to have everything perfect (I have not met any single person in my life who could be called “perfect”) so by becoming a perfectionist you doom yourself to failure and disappointment.
    I also think that perfection is boring. Perfection does not leave any room for creativity or fun. If you have something perfect then you never have to think about changing it. No changes equals boring life for me personally.
    Thank you for sharing this post.

  • Excellent post!!

    “What is here today is not exactly the same tomorrow”

    People change, I change, the world is constantly changing. What is perfect today will not be perfect tomorrow.

    “The time is never right”

    I was always in search of the perfect… everything : Perfect car, girlfriend, stuff. Does it have to be perfect? Why do we seek perfection? In our modern world we get absorbed in what other people think. But now I have realized no matter what I do, somebody will not like it. So in who’s eyes are you seeking perfection, and how long will that view of perfection last? Be confortable will change, and you will not be concered with perfection because it is only temporay good or bad, this will change.

  • This is a great post — there are so many aspects of our lives where we feverishly seek perfection. Learning to accept the imperfections of life can only enhance the experiences of life.

  • Look at the havoc that the word ‘perfect’ wreaks on our lives. We expect perfection in ourselves and others leading us down a long road of disappointment. If we could only jettison that word and give everyone - especially ourselves - a little compassion for not being perfect, we would all be better off.

  • Loved this post! For the message and for the simplicity with which it is conveyed!

  • Nailed it Marc! Too often we want the world to be how we want it, only to find having an expectation is what makes us unhappy. If only we could enjoy the beauty of the world and everyone as they are :)

  • the summary of everyone’s love battle, I loved this post!!

  • i am an idealist, perfectionist, and i often find myself finding that perfect someone.

    and as time passes by, i get to realise that the closest to perfectionist is how we would imagine it.

    nothing is better than imagination. when we want something perfect, we need to access whether we’re perfect as well.

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