The Quest for Perfection

Allie Banks '16

Allie Banks ’16

It’s really hard to be perfect; in fact, it’s just not possible. But even though we always hear that, “Nobody is perfect,” why do we still tell ourselves that we will never be good enough? Why do we still dedicate a ridiculous amount of time and energy to making ourselves seem perfect in everyone’s eyes?

Here at Groton, I have met people who are very close to being what is widely considered to be “perfect.” They receive high grades, speak multiple languages, participate in a varsity-level sport during at least one season, and play a musical instrument. They are also considered to be physically attractive, an integral part of the community, and a great person in terms of personality.

In addition to academics, athletics, and the arts, we all have personal lives. A person’s mental health, emotional health and social life are just as important as physical achievements. Even if someone may seem perfect, they might harbor insecurities or other flaws that they hide from the outside world for fear of having them exposed.

I often experience the sense that when I try to improve one aspect of my life, another worsens. When I lock myself in my room to study for assessments, it definitely does not help my social life, emotional state, or sometimes my physical appearance.

If I decide to spend most of my time catching up with friends, I will most likely not get as much work done. But this is a part of my life that is very important to me, and not one that I can easily give up. Sacrifices have to be made to find a balance between the multitudes of commitments we make in life. The scales are almost always going to be tipped.

Perfectionism is the belief that if we do everything perfectly, we will be free from the harshness of society’s judgments and disapproval. Everybody is a perfectionist to some degree. We all need to feel worthy of something, and we are never [insert adjective here] enough: we have a natural desire to improve ourselves.

Perfectionism is not the same as improving parts of our lives, nor is it trying to be the best we possibly can. It’s more an attempt to fit to standards which we don’t set for ourselves. Society today has an aggravatingly high number of expectations, whether about the widths of our waists, our sexuality, or how many hours we study for an assessment.  In trying to be accepted by a society that sets unreasonable standards, we lose track of who we truly are.

Dr. Paul G. Hewitt and Dr. Gordon L. Flett, researchers of the relationship between psychological health and perfectionism, believe that there is a difference between “the desire to excel and the desire to be perfect.” The former can be beneficial to attaining goals and improving results, while their research show that the latter has a higher chance of causing mental health issues.

“I think the reason for that is that socially prescribed perfectionism has an element of pressure combined with a sense of helplessness and hopelessness,” Flett described in his article. ‘Other-oriented’ perfectionists, or those who follow their peers’ expectations, he added, are inclined to feel that “the better I do, the better I’m expected to do.”

Rather than assimilate the highest of everyone’s standards, the best goal to set is to improve and to give enough effort so that you will not regret the outcome. It’s unreasonable to strive for something impossible and kick yourself for being powerless. Make perfect personal.

Sometimes we just have to let go. It is more important to embrace who we are in the moment than to try to cram ourselves into a cookie cutter. We simply need to accept that life is messy and imperfect, and that we are too.

Nobody is perfect, and you’re not either. If we were, we wouldn’t be allowed to do anything lest we make the tiniest mistake. We would have to be still and not say a word for fear of saying it imperfectly. Wouldn’t this be terribly boring? So go out and enjoy the world. Blurt out the wrong answer, wave to someone who wasn’t waving at you, trip over your own feet: you still have the rest of your life to improve and make mistakes.

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