The Endless Pursuit of “Perfection”

by Jake Foster @jakerfoster

Inspiration for these articles sometimes come from the most unsuspecting sources. I’m currently reading a book on the state of economics in our country (I’m still a political junkie at heart). Tucked in the middle of the book’s topics on labor costs, trade deficits, wage distributions, etc. is a short excerpt from the Journal of Public Economics about how people are caught in a never ending pursuit of trying to change their economic status. According to the author, people “tend to look exclusively at those better off than us...When the lot of others improves, we react negatively, but when our own lot improves, we shift our reference group to those who are still better off.” We achieve what we thought would be “financial freedom” only to realize that there will always be someone more successful than we are. Eventually, we end up caught in a vicious cycle of discontentment as we constantly have to readjust our standards of success to meet those who are always one step above us. 

Fitness goals are a lot like financial ones. There will always be someone fitter than you are. But, that never stops us from trying to keep up with the Jones’. We see someone on TV, in a magazine, or at our local gym with the “perfect” physique or fitness level that we desire. So, we train to look or feel just like them. Some of us achieve our goal, while a lot of us give up before ever coming close. Either way, our pursuit of what we consider perfect is in vain. Because even if we were able to obtain it, just like financial success, we will quickly find an even higher standard to compare ourselves to. It becomes a never ending staircase to find what’s better than perfect.

Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that we don’t try and seek financial, fitness, or any other sort of perfection. In fact, that should always be the goal. But, the first step in attempting to achieve “perfect” is in realizing that we will never actually achieve it. This seems contradictory because it is. However, living within this contradiction is what frees us from constant discontentment. It encourages us to strive for personal perfection, all the while, finding satisfaction in our current status. It creates a beautiful balance. You can work hard, train hard, and spend your life always seeking ways to improve it, yet simultaneously live with the peace and fulfillment that comes from knowing that perfection is an endless standard.