by Dean Wallraff

Why Not Just Be Perfect?


I'm thinking of writing a self-help book called Why Not Just Be Perfect?, which would explain that the toll of feeling bad about all kinds of stuff adds up over time, causing depression and anxiety. Why not be done with all of this, and simply become perfect, so that there's nothing to feel bad about?
      In the best self-help tradition, the things I feel bad about most often are health-related things:
  • being 30 pounds overweight
  • drinking too much wine
  • eating food with too much fat

Why not just be perfect, and stop all this? I could become a teetotalling parsimonious eater of Vegan snacks.

  • I spend too much money.
  • I waste too much time watching TV movies.
  • I read too many easy and unenlightening books.

Why not be perfectly parsimonious, get rid of the TV, read only great books?

I harm others with my materialistic lifestyle:

  • By being a meat-eater I waste a lot of food, and cause animals to be born and die in miserable conditions.
  • By living a lifestyle that consumes more than my share of energy, (e.g. driving an SUV and setting my air conditioning too low) I contribute a lot to a variety of environmental ills such as pollution and global warming.
  • Consuming too much makes me complicit in a whole range of injustices, from AIDS and starvation in Africa to species extinction.
  • Working 40 hours/week to generate more income than I really need makes me part of the cycle of excess production and consumption.

So why can't I fix all these problems, and just be perfect? For two reasons. I have only so much discipline, and try to budget it for the things that matter, like writing this essay, doing my part around the house, putting in enough hours at work, writing music, helping my fellow artists. Second, there have been periods in my life when I've tried to keep up with the paperwork on my desk: bills, reconciliation of health-insurance claims, proxy statements, Web page updates, etc., and I found that this is a bottomless pit. I could spend my whole life being perfect in this one petty way, and I'd never have time for the things that matter to me. Doing all the little things perfectly, erasing the lists above and the others like them, is like this. It would take my whole life. Who doesn't know someone who's obsessive about all the little details, and who never does anything substantial?
      No, balance must be the goal, not perfection, and it's a multi-dimensional balance. I must balance being selfish against helping others, in inverse proportion to their emotional distance from me — my wife first, then my sister and my friends, my neighbors, everyone else in the world, and animals. I must balance doing things that everyone could and should do (the above list) against those special contributions that only I can make. I guess I can't include writing the perfect self-help book on the list of those special contributions. Why Not Just Be Well Balanced sounds like a snore.

Copyright © 2000 - 2008 by Dean Wallraff. All rights reserved.