Corridor at Calke Abbey“Practice makes perfect”.  “I’m a bit of a perfectionist”.  “I just want the whole day to be perfect”. “He seems perfect for you”.

Perfection is a concept we refer to a lot – at work, when we study, or in our personal relationships.  And there’s something really exhilarating when we feel that all the right buttons are being pressed in a particular part of our lives, and things just could not be bettered.

But perfection is an absolute concept – it brooks no shortfall.  If 99% of the situation is right, it may be really good, but it can’t be perfect.

I was thinking about this yesterday when I visited Calke Abbey, a National Trust house in Derbyshire.  The current building was originally constructed in the 1700s, and was clearly an architectural gem of its day.  However, as the centuries rolled past, the cost of maintaining it became a challenge and several generations of the family who owned it became fairly reclusive.  By about 100 years ago, the master of the house was so withdrawn that he would often issue instructions to the servants in writing simply to avoid having to speak to them in person.

By the 1980s, the owner was residing alone with no live-in servants, occupying just a couple of rooms in the house, while the rest of the huge mansion was filled with the accumulated detritus of generations.  And this was the condition in which the National Trust inherited it in 1985.  The temptation would have been to strip the place out and restore it, but to their great credit, the NT didn’t do that.  They stopped any further decay, but left the house just as it was, warts and all.

And I am glad that they did, as it is (to use that word again) perfect – and one of my favourite of all the Trust’s properties. It is what it is – with no pretensions, rife with contradictions, peeling and blistering and in places rather ramshackle.

But then maybe perfection is not about trying to become something else, striving to meet some externally imposed criteria.  Maybe it’s not actually a physical condition of being at all, but a state of mind in which we accept and embrace all of what we are and where we find ourselves – the nice bits, and the bits we are not so keen on.  When I think back to the times in my life when I was happiest – when life was “perfect” – it’s not about what I was doing so much as how I felt about what I was doing.

And when you look at it that way, there’s really no reason why perfection isn’t something we should all experience rather more often.  Just a thought….

About simongregor

Photographer, business thinker and tour guide.
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