Dear Rachel,

I’m a perfectionist. I want things to be just so, and I’m frustrated and miserable if they’re not. I try to take every contingency into account when I make plans, but there’s always something that doesn’t work out the way I want it to. Doesn’t G‑d want us to strive for perfection? Why am I always so miserable?

Perfectly Unhappy

Dear There’s No Such Thing As Perfect,

I hear how frustrating it is for you that reality is not matching your expectations! Here are a few things to keep in mind:

You Can’t Be Perfect

Only G‑d is perfect. He doesn’t expect you to be perfect; He asks that you strive to reach your individual potential—which is tremendous, but much less than perfect. As it says in Proverbs, “A tzaddik (saintly individual) falls seven times and rises”1—being human means falling and rising. In fact, the rising is dependent on the falling.

If we are imperfect, our relationships, vacations, parties and enterprises are all going to be flawed. The Midrash says, “A man does not die with [even] half of his desire fulfilled.”2 We shouldn’t expect to have everything work out a hundred percent to our liking—because there really is no way to achieve perfection in this world. That’s life.

Perfection Is Boring

Could you imagine how boring a life without challenge and striving would be? All inspiring stories are based on people overcoming imperfections in their lives and achieving great things despite them.

It’s not even attractive to be perfect. I once saw a book that displayed pictures of celebrities’ faces next to the Photoshopped versions of their faces if they had been perfectly symmetrical. Let me tell you, we would be pretty boring-looking if our faces were perfectly symmetrical.

Perfection Is Not Always a Good Thing

We have two inclinations, the good inclination (yetzer hatov) and the bad inclination (yetzer hara). You would think that striving for perfection is the impetus of the good inclination, but that’s not true. It’s the bad inclination that insists that you or your life or your circumstances aren’t good enough, and that robs you of several important things:

  • Humility. It’s arrogant of us to think we can be perfect, or that we have perfect control of our lives. We can do our best to take every contingency into consideration, but ultimately the final outcome is in G‑d’s hands, and accepting that is the key to humility. Thinking that we know better than G‑d is being assumptive. And people don’t like control freaks.
  • Gratitude and joy. If you’re upset that someone forgot the sprinkles, you’re missing the joy of the chocolate cake. That’s because our brains can’t focus on two emotions at once. If we live a life of gratitude, our lives are full; if we live a life of perfectionism, our lives are empty because our focus is always on what isn’t perfect. You can choose to be resigned or you can choose to be happy. It’s all up to you.
  • Fulfillment. G‑d made an imperfect world, and our mission is to improve it. The mitzvahs of brit milah, taking challah and making kiddush are ways of completing the physical world and adding a spiritual dimension. Our challenge is to face the imperfections of the world and try to overcome them. But neither we nor the world will ever reach perfection until Moshiach comes. In the meantime, we’re supposed to separate the wheat from the chaff and live the most fulfilled and joyful life we can in spite of, or even because, of these imperfections in our lives. And these efforts to overcome our limitations are what bring fulfillment to our lives.

Serving G‑d Imperfectly

In Judaism, a mitzvah is still valuable even if it isn’t perfect. Of course, we want to do the mitzvah as best we can, but sometimes lack of knowledge, financial and social constraints, and our own personalities make it difficult to serve G‑d perfectly. Many people won’t do a mitzvah until they can do in perfectly, so they never actually get around to doing it.

G‑d doesn’t ask for perfection. “What does G‑d require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your G‑d.”3 No mention of perfection.

Sure, do the best you can, and try to maximize the inherent potential of every situation, but don’t get caught up in impossible ideals. Because when you stress out over imperfections, you spoil whatever it is that you have.

So be less demanding of yourself and others, go with the flow and surrender to happiness.

And consider this: this answer isn’t perfect either, but if it helped in any way, it’s still valuable. And so is every experience.

Wishing you a life of perfectly happy imperfection,