Achieving Perfection

For those of you who don’t read or follow my other blog, I’ve been attending one-to-one counselling sessions for the last month or so, in order to address some of the issues I’ve faced for much of my life (mostly revolving around anxiety and fear, leading to stints of depression). I won’t go in to any of that on these pages but, last week’s one-hour session included an interesting discussion on the art of achieving Perfection

I’m not afraid to admit that I’m quite a perfectionist myself, even when I let the odd minor detail slip or slide with my woodwork. But, apparently, perfection does not exist; it is impossible to achieve. For that reason, we should all be looking to achieve something else – not just with our work but, in our every day lives – our own, personal excellence.

It’s still an idea or notion that I am coming to terms with. As we were talking through several key points, in my mind, I was using techniques that I’ve learnt and experiences I’ve had through working with wood as metaphoric examples to help me consciously digest and understand each point. So, I thought it would be interesting to try and talk about this a little further on this blog.

Generally speaking, I am not a spontaneous person. I have pure admiration for people (mostly woodturners) who can look at a lump at lump of what and ‘see’ what they are going to make, without any prior planning or intentions. That is not me! While I do believe that something planning and forethought is necessary in any project (cutting lists, for one example), I am also guilty of over-thinking and, as daft as it may sound, over-planning the initial steps and further sequences. All of this added thinking creates stress and unnecessary pressure. With that comes the high expectations and, wherever we fail to hit those marks, we can become angry, frustrated and, as I’m sure you’ve experienced before, one mistake can lead to several others.

We need to approach our woodworking with less of the fear that things can potentially go wrong. There are may risks associated with almost any activity. We, as a species, are not perfect by design. We must also acknowledge that our personal perceptions of what is ‘perfect’ in a design is not a view that will be shared by others – therefore, it is not perfect, but our vision of our own personal excellence. To have more of the confidence and less of the fear in sharing our ideas and approaches and putting ourselves ‘out there’; that is how we strive towards this.

Perfection is a destination that ‘must’ be reached. When we fail to get there, we dwell on the negatives, our fear increases and the frustration grows. Excellence, however, is an on-going ‘journey’ that never stops. There is no end destination. We get on the road and we keep on driving forwards. No right-turns, no going back; the road ahead is straight and clear.

Okay, this post may be more philosophical than anything else I’ve posted here and, to be fair, I’ve been a bit ‘vague’ with some the details as I don’t want to rip-off the service I’m currently paying for. Hopefully, you get the jist though. It’s not just about positive thinking and approaching problems in a calm manner; we need to approach all aspects of our work in the correct positive manner.

I hope this post has made some sense and that it gives you something to consider next time you step in to the workshop. Blogging is all about ‘giving’ and ‘accepting’ by sharing our efforts with numerous untold others. We all have that confidence and we’re not afraid to be wrong.

Thanks for reading.

8 thoughts on “Achieving Perfection

  1. “Perfection exists only in the dictionary, under ‘P’.”

    Even if perfection does not exist, it is clearly defined. Excellent, on the other hand is not clearly defined – what is excellent to you may not be seen as excellent to me. Rather than excellence, I have been seeking satisfaction in my work. I am done when I am satisfied with the job which I have done (I have also been described as a “perfectionist”).

    Chris, a spontaneous thinker.

    1. I do agree that our own excellence is different to someone else’s; that’s what makes us and our work unique. We should be satisfied with that. I still need to learn to accept that things don’t always work out as I’d hoped. Then again, one other occasions, they do.

      I forgot to add that I found my day-job VERY frustrating, as it involves working to a standard that is far below what I would refer to as ‘satisfactory’. It’s more about getting each job done quickly and within time. There’s no time for appreciation, working for a company that doesn’t understand or appreciate the tools and materials it has available.

      1. Olly,

        So, in your day job, the standards are high for output, rather than quality?

        I could argue that most companies don’t make best use of the materials. They are focused on production and a certain level of quality. Production does not lend itself well to using natural materials, such as wood, to their maximum potential. In many furniture factories, wood exhibiting figure is considered defective.

        You know what kind of work I do. Most of the wood I use would be rejected by furniture factories, but because of the way I build furniture, I’m able to utilize and feature it. When we have the freedom to adapt the design, wood with character is not flawed.


  2. My own belief is that perfection, while unatainable, is still a goal to strive for. It is the effort to get there that makes us better so if we stop reaching for it or fool ourselves into believing we’ve reached it then that is when we stop improving. Of course since it is unatainable then we should not be too hard on ourselves for not reaching it. Just appreciate when something is good or excellent while still noting what could be better next time.

    1. Hi Chris and thank you for your comment.

      I think that the argument against perfection has more to do with our fear of how our ‘perfection’ may be perceived by others…

      Will our best be good enough for them? What we need to accept that our own best efforts are individual and unique, as each of us is (apart from the politicians, of course! :-P). So, it shouldn’t matter what someone else may think, as long as we are satisfied.

  3. Very interesting blog and to be honest I feel you are not giving your comments enough credit. Mental health problems whether it is anxiety/depression or other is still stigmatised within society and it can take guts to be open about these facts especially on ‘tinternet’.

    Like you, I have faced these demons since a very young age and trying to achieve perfection always lead to frustration. However, I won’t bore you with the details but It could be safe to say that your journey for perfection does not stop with wood-working and will be evident in all aspects of your life.

    Failure, poor results non-achievement or whatever we would like to call it can leave the individual feeling like a failure in life, a worthless person who will never be good enough and so on. This is not innate and stems from our formative years (Attachment Theory). Held within this theory are descriptors of different attachment issues. Personally speaking, I stopped my fight against depression in my late thirties. I came to the conclusion that this illness in not a chemical imbalance but more like part of my chemical make-up. I just accepted myself for who I am. Having this awareness was empowering and I realised that I wasn’t fighting illness but I was fighting myself instead.

    I still enjoy wood working but when I begin a project there is still the fear that mistakes will happen and they normally do but now I put this down to a learned experience. My Mrs may argue this because when I come in from the workshop after a bad session my mind goes into overdrive and I cannot rest until I have resolved or sussed out the problem. My projects may have the occasional flaw..But then,So do I and that’s just me.

    1. Hi Alex,

      Thank you for your comment and I apologise for this delay in replying.

      I’m sorry to hear that you’ve also been through very hard times in your life but it is reassuring to hear that you’ve found your way out. This post seems to have struck a chord with several other people who’ve contacted me this week; it’s all quite amazing!

      I totally agree with the Attachment Theory suggestion and there are issues from my own childhood that support this; lines from which many of my anxieties and fears are drawn.

      Thanks again for your message and take care. 🙂

  4. Perfection is obtainable. You just have to be realistic with your expectation. What is it that you are making and what do you want from it. My question for anything is “what do I want it to do?”, then, “what do I want it to look like?”. For example, a CD rack, I want it to hold CD’s, then I want it to look nice. If the result holds CDs its perfect, anything else is a bonus.
    Any improvements you can think of after the fact, carry to the next CD rack to make your next perfect / different CD rack.

    Keep up the good work, I find it inspiring.

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