Today I’d like to use this soapbox to call out a morbid tendency amongst the privileged, myself included: a tendency towards perfectionism, a.k.a. pickiness. Why is this a problem? Because if we can’t avoid focusing on flaws, we’ll never be at peace. There’s a scratch in even the smoothest surface (or there will be soon enough). This article’s about not letting it ruin your day—which is easier said than done.
Pickiness suggests a certain particularity. But pickiness doesn’t just mean picking out the good stuff (however you define ‘good stuff’). It’s also picking apart the not-so-good: analyzing a situation to death and teasing out every flaw, blemish or inconsistency. This analytic acumen may behove a jeweler who needs to spot the defects in a gemstone. For the rest of us, though, focusing on the miniscule cracks can mean losing sight of the dazzling diamond itself (or the chipped piece of beach glass, or whatever shiny bauble the universe has graced us with).
Granted, there comes a time to give free rein to our inner analyst, the picker. He’s the one who assesses repairs, after all, and orders the necessary parts. But while we wait for those parts to arrive, we have the opportunity to practice the art of positive thinking.
I’ll be the first to admit that “the art positive thinking” sounds like the title of a new age motivational talk from circa 1998. But cliche as it may be, there’s something worth chewing on beneath the candy-coating here. The art, I hazard, lies not in the nitpicker’s laser focus but in softening our gaze to take in the big picture. A broader perspective helps us appreciate the good in a situation, a person, or indeed ourselves. It always start with ourselves. If we can keep from picking at our own sore spots, chances are we can extend the same respect to others.
Here, then, is a simple alternative (if not an antidote) to pickiness: identify, focus on and strengthen what’s good. As you build on and nourish your strengths they will grow and join up, as on the map of your inner life the seas of negative space shrink to become isolated lakes and ponds. Even if the goodness is small and surrounded by a dark sea of nastiness, if put your loving attention on that lonely little island it will grow. You don’t have to worry about shrinking the dark sea. As the light grows brighter, the darkness recedes automatically.
So when you’ve got something good, instead of perversely picking at its flaws, spend your energy polishing. Make it shine like the buttons on grandpa’s blazer. Sure they’ve got a crack or two, but so does gramps—and that’s what gives ‘em character.