Why I’m a perfectionist

On the costs and difficulty of achieving upward mobility

Why I’m a perfectionist:

If you come from less opportunity, the path to transcending your birth class is unforgivingly narrow. Mistakes are more penal than for someone already in a higher class.

For the ambitious, perfectionism becomes a survival tactic. An essential and necessary trait.

Climbing from one class to another — be it from lower to middle or middle to upper — is precarious and fraught with pitfalls. You have to become a master at avoiding and hedging against the potential downsides of every step or decision. And foster enough courage to break from the convention of your surroundings.

Only the precise and persistent — the perfect — make it through this reality.

My parents are class climbers.

From day one, I was raised to be one too.

I think my perfectionism is an unplanned consequence of that pursuit.

It was the only way I — the son of parents who, against all odds, carved a path out of poverty and achieved upper-middle-class wealth — could reach beyond to elite higher education and a professional career.

They understood what that climb requires.

Hard work.

And they instilled those skills in me.

Am I better off for my perfectionism? 

Materially, maybe.

But I often wonder if life would be more joyful if I spent less time climbing with my nose against the granite, and more time enjoying the view.

🤝 Stay in touch

I send an email several times a year with a handful of the most interesting things I’ve written or uncovered at home, abroad, and on the web.

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