Perfectionism. It’s a funny concept if you really think about it. We label people as “perfectionists” if their projects have stressed them out to the fullest or if they spend much of their time making sure that their houses are spotless and well-organized. We use the word “perfect” to describe someone who seemingly “has it all together”, when truthfully that person never feels like they do. Why? Because “having it all together” is an unattainable idea. “Perfect” is a nihility, and our entire culture is essentially a fraud.
Nowadays, we often use “perfection” as a standard for success. However, there’s always a new product, technology, or idea that is being thrown our way with the enticing guarantee that it will make us “better”, raising our perfection-based standard higher and higher out of reach. We are constantly striving for “better”, incessantly looking for the “next best thing”. Yes, self-improvement can be beneficial, and there shouldn’t be anything wrong with wanting to work on ourselves, but today’s culture has taken the idea of “improvement” and created an entire market based upon it. From self-help books to laser hair removal to designer labels, everywhere we turn we are being sold the idea that we must do and buy things that make us better, so much so that we’ve forgotten how to just be ourselves. We have forgotten how to love ourselves and our lives as they are because we are too busy attempting to attain the impossible. We have forgotten that we don’t need to be better. We have forgotten that we don’t need to be anything besides just us.
The underlying problem with today’s culture: we are consumers and we are people, but we cannot be both at the same time. It can be easy to fail to recognize the fact we are not simply being sold products, services, and “improvements”. We are being sold these self-deprecating ideals as well. We are buying into this idea that we always need to be better. In turn, we are also buying into this idea that we aren’t enough. Allow me to illustrate:
Our bodies aren’t enough. Our waists aren’t small enough. Our torsos aren’t prolonged enough. Our skin isn’t clear enough. Our faces aren’t symmetrical enough. Our teeth aren’t white enough. Our arms are too jiggly but our behinds aren’t jiggly enough.
Our work ethic isn’t enough. Our grades aren’t good enough. Our accomplishments aren’t worthy enough. Our productivity level isn’t efficient enough. Our time isn’t spent enough. Our resources aren’t exhausted enough. Our input levels are too high, but our output levels, well, those aren’t high enough.
Our finances aren’t enough. Our houses aren’t large enough. Our cars aren’t luxurious enough. Our wardrobes aren’t extensive enough. Our jewelry isn’t fine enough. Our dinners aren’t elegant enough. Our taxes are too costly, yet our possessions, of course, aren’t costly enough.
Whether we realize it or not, many of us are living out this narrative that we aren’t “enough”.
“Enough”: the Germanic word originated in the early 1300s in reference to needing something and to succeeding when acquiring necessities. The 1300s, people! In the 1300s, people did need clothes and food and water and shelter. They needed these things to survive, and by surviving they were essentially succeeding. But I can confidently tell you that they did not need impeccably proportional bodies, or makeup, or 4.0 GPAs, or flat screen televisions, or houses in the Hamptons with 60 ft long in-ground pools in order to be considered successful. No. The word “enough” has evolved to refer to things that it never intended to be used in reference towards.
So when we are constantly told that we aren’t today’s version of “enough”, I wonder, enough for what? Really, the more pressing question becomes, enough for whom? It’s 2021, and society also tells us that we should only live for ourselves, that we should do only what makes us as individuals happy and pay no attention to what others think. Quite the contradiction, no? I digress. We, as independent beings, only have to be “enough” for one person, and given today’s popular ideologies, I’m pretty sure I don’t have to spell out who that is.
“Having it all together” is an unattainable idea. “Perfect” is a nihility, and our entire culture is essentially a fraud. We’re constantly striving for something that doesn’t exist. We’re running and running but we’re never getting anywhere. It’s exhausting. And the sad truth is, there’s nothing we can do to stop the things that contribute to the self-deprecating ideals of today’s culture. Cellphones, social media, and mass marketing are only going to continue to evolve. There will always be a “next best thing” fighting for our attention, our money, our self-worth. Society will keep telling us what to do, and our narratives are going to continue being written for us—unless, of course, we decide to take the pen into our own hands and write the narrative ourselves.
We often overlook our individual potentials. We could have all of the power over ourselves if we would just take it. We have the ability to escape the never-ending cycle of “better”, of not “good enough”, of “perfect”. We can and should redefine success and necessity for ourselves. Just because society uses “perfect” as a standard doesn’t mean that we have to. See, we cannot be failures if our definition of success is simply to try. We would not be so hard on ourselves if our definition of an amazing body is one that carries us through life and gets us where we need to go, if we saw our bodies as homes and not just aesthetics. We cannot be poor if we define “rich” in experiences and not in materialistic things. It’s crucial that, in a culture that puts so much emphasis on individuality, yet also so much pressure on it that we are able to remain true to ourselves and those around us, we are able to detach ourselves and see real meaning in life. It’s important that we stop to reflect once in a while, evaluate what’s worth our energy, and remind ourselves that “enough” doesn’t exist, “perfect” is pretend, and the definition of our self-worth lies nowhere but in our very own hands.