For a long time, I wanted to be perfect.
I’m not quite sure where I got my definition of perfection — it’s such a subjective thing, and everyone’s version of what perfect is will vary from society to society, culture to culture, age to age. But it plagued me, wherever my version came from, and I wanted to be perfect in every single way I imagined I could be. I wanted to nail every joke, make everyone laugh, get straight As, always have the perfect outfit and the perfect hair and the perfect school lunch. I spent years torturing myself over not having the perfect body.
The irony was never lost on me that by trying so hard to pursue perfection, I only ended up creating a host of problems and therefore grew that much further away from perfection itself.
Still though, I had this idea in my head of all the things the Girl I Could Be was, and all the ways I didn’t measure up. So I persisted. I think I was her maybe for a day or two once. I was thin. I had a boyfriend. I planned my outfits and wore cute dresses and heels both days and tried to exude the kind of radiance that always seems to come from the people whose lives are glossy and beautiful and wonderful and perfect from the outside.
In truth, they were the two most miserable days of my life, because I was so very worried that people would see through the veneer and call my bluff.
It’s a funny thing, wanting to be perfect. It’s something we know — oh, we all know this by now, we’re all so aware of this — that we’ll never be. And yet we still try, and we do it in such covert ways, as if to say that this want that is so universal and yet so clandestine is the most shameful of desires. Maybe it is. Maybe we know deep down that it’s a recipe for disaster. We’re aware that happiness doesn’t exist at the end of perfection, because there is no end. There’s only going to be something else to work on, something else to fix, something in excess, something that’s not good enough. And we need these little moments of dissatisfaction because if you’re not trying to improve upon something, you grow stagnant, and complacent, and you don’t change.
But you have to improve upon yourself for your own sake, and not for the sake of being perfect.
Perfect isn’t interesting, anyway. Sure, we’re drawn on a surface level to the people with glossy lives: the celebrities and stars and rare gems in our lives who seem to have everything so easy. We like looking at pretty things, and those seem like pretty lives. (I stress that because if there’s one thing that’s always true in this world, it’s that few things are rarely ever as they seem.) But think of all the people you’ve ever truly loved, and of all their faults and quirks and imperfections. It’s these things — the louder-than-should-be laughs and propensities to clash prints and stripes, the inability to eat a banana without giggling, or the scars that map a body like so many Xs (if treasures were secrets the two of you could share) — that make people compelling. It’s the stories about how they failed 20 times before succeeding, how they were too stubborn — ostensibly a fault rather than a virtue, but I say otherwise — to give up, that tell us that these are high quality people who are ready to work hard, no matter their failings.
These are not perfect traits. But they’re interesting, and compelling, and they people memorable and unique and wonderful.
Who’s to say what perfect is anyway — or even how we get there? How do we decide if it’s people who get things right on the first try, or who are self-contained, who never say the wrong thing, who never do or risk everything we would dream of risking, of doing? Or maybe, as we grow and learn and risk and fail, we learn that our own perceptions of perfect come into play as we try these things, and as we fail, and as we glean captivating stories and fascinating life lessons and develop our own interesting views on life. Maybe perfect is something we need to stop ascribing to.
Being perfect is hard work. It’s exhausting work. And people are intimidated by even so much as being around perfect people, because they’re afraid they’ll never measure up. In retrospect, being perfect seems awfully lonely. And it’s tedious. There are, I think, far more compelling ways to spend your time than to second-guess everything you’re going to do and wear and eat and say. And someone will love you for all the flaws you expose, anyway.
(Maybe that someone could even be you. It should be. You, as much as anyone else, are worthy of that kind of radical self-love.)
And what would happen if, instead of all covertly trying to be perfect, we set our aims instead on being happy? On being satisfied with who we are as human beings, and forgiving ourselves our shortcomings, and being kind to ourselves? Call me crazy, but I have a feeling that of all the seemingly unattainable things in this world we could seek, that happiness is probably more worthwhile than something as arbitrary as “perfect.”