The art of perfectionism is hardly something anyone has down to a T. So, we strive for it. We’re constantly moving on to the next bigger, better thing before we’ve really even had a chance to appreciate what we have in the present moment.
When grades come out, it only takes a moment until most of us have resolved to do better the next semester. Maybe we do dedicate ourselves to our academics, pull all-nighters studying for tests, edit papers ten times over. But how long does that last? If you’re lucky, it maybe takes a month before you’re burned out.
We only have our phones for a year before we want an upgrade. Each new generation of phones has upgrades like bug fixes and faster programming. It’s promised to be better in as many ways as possible, just like how we promise ourselves that we’ll be better and do better when we turn the page to each new semester.
The key word here, if you haven’t gotten it yet, is “better.”
Bigger. Better. Faster. Stronger. Our society seems to be built upon all words ending in “er,” anything meaning “to be more” of something, anything leading to perfection.
“Perfecter” isn’t a word we see too often because once you’ve reached perfection, there’s nowhere else to go. You can’t get any better once you’ve reached perfect.
But does perfectionism even really exist? Is anyone perfect at anything?
My answer to that is a complicated one: No.
Perfectionism is an abstract concept, one we keep chasing but know deep down we’ll never reach. If perfection was possible, someone would’ve reached it by now. Someone would’ve invented the best phone or the best laptop or the best tablet, and we wouldn’t need new updates. Someone would’ve invented a way to solve world hunger. Someone would’ve found a way to end all wars.
Someone out there would have all the answers to the biggest questions we continually ask ourselves, and that someone would be perfect.
But the fact of the matter is that we don’t have those answers because no one out there is perfect. In one way or another, we’re all flawed.
As someone who’s strived to meet perfection her whole life, I’m slowly coming to the realization that an encounter with perfection is something I’ll never have. It’s a bittersweet moment of truth, but one that’s entirely freeing as well.
In high school, I never left the house without a smooth layer of foundation on my skin, crisp wings of eyeliner, mascara coated lashes and glossy lips. My grades were impeccable. I was a top runner on my cross-country team. My advisor deemed me the future editor-in-chief of our school newspaper upon the publication of my first article.
More than anything, though, I was lonely. I could see my flaws, but to everyone else I was, in essence, perfect. I think at the end of the day, the flaws that no one saw, that no one understood, overwhelmed me completely. Even in a room chock-full of my best friends, I felt alone.
I thought a perfect GPA would make me happy. I thought being the fastest runner on my track team would make me happy. I thought winning awards for my writing would make me happy. I thought being perfect, or as close as I could get, would make me happy. I was wrong.
I worried constantly about losing that seemingly perfect image. The more I worried, the worse my personal battles and internal struggles became. Constantly worried about the way I was perceived by others and myself, I fell into a deep depression.
At the time my depression was at an all-time high, so was my reputation. My grades were stellar. I ran the best track season of my life. My co-editor-in-chief and I led our publication to win some big awards at our annual journalism competition. But I wasn’t happy.
That was my senior year of high school. Two years later, I’m finally starting to figure some things out.
Being perfect wasn’t all that it was cracked out to be. Yeah, sure, I looked like I had it all going on, but that was far from the truth. I hid my battles from everyone around me, but they were tearing me up inside.
This year in college, I opened up to everyone I knew (and even people I don’t know) about my eating disorder and my OCD. After doing so, I lost another season of running to anemia, something I was entirely capable of avoiding.
That, in turn, forced me to put on the weight I’d feared putting on for years for the sake of my health. My grades were still stellar, but they weren’t perfect like they have been in the past. I often left my dorm in sweats and with no makeup.
Not exactly the picture of perfection my high school self would’ve approved. On paper, it looks like I messed up somewhere. It looks like I don’t have my life together as much as I used to. Maybe it even looks like I gave up.
I gave something up, yes. I gave up the idea that I’d ever be perfect. But I held on to something wholly healthier and more fulfilling: I held onto the idea that I’d never be perfect, but I’d always be me.
My relationships with my friends grew deeper when I stopped hiding my mental battles and let people in to see my real, imperfect self. I let go of the idea that I needed to look like a skeleton to be beautiful and started feeding myself properly.
Now I’m more confident in the way I look. I know I have better seasons of running ahead now that I fuel myself as I should’ve been doing all along. I might not have a 4.0 GPA anymore, but I realize that people know I’m smart with or without that.
I wish I’d known now that all those times in high school when I skipped a meal to fit a certain image or stayed up late studying when I needed sleep more than anything wasn’t going to get me any closer to perfection because perfection cannot be attained.
When you stop chasing, dreaming and wondering about perfection, life gets so much brighter. It doesn’t feel so dark. It doesn’t feel so alone. It feels like you’re free to be you, not stuck on the notion that you need to be perfect to love yourself.