Perfectionism impedes (im)perfection

Sofia Ordoñez is a senior English major. She is the Arts & Entertainment Editor for the Newswire from Cincinnati.

To say that perfection doesn’t exist is not a novel idea. We all know (or should know) that striving for perfection is unattainable and unsustainable, and eludes us precisely because it is merely a vapor of the imagination. Yet that does not stop us from pursuing perfection in nearly every aspect of our lives, especially our lives as students. Oftentimes, academia is predicated upon perfection, and creates a mentality that makes our self-worth contingent upon the accomplishments, accolades, creations, opportunities and praise that we receive. This mentality is dangerous– yet so seductive. We think to ourselves, “If I belong to such and such club, or earn this position or win this award, I’ll look like I have everything together.” Without explicitly saying the words, we are entertaining the notion of perfectionism, the idea that we can chase the impossible dream of being the “perfect” person, admired and revered by all who dare to behold us.

In doing so, we forsake the validity of ourselves as imperfect, human creatures. We deny ourselves the freedom of making mistakes and creating works of beauty and meaning from the deconstruction that occurs when we step back, reevaluate, dismantle and compose. Perfectionism eliminates the process of discovery that is not only inherent to creating works of art, but to life as a whole. It forces us to operate within a binary, which severely limits the exchange of ideas within the self and between other people. Often, we weigh the risks of “not being perfect,” but fail to evaluate the risks of perfectionism – the withering of deep, meaningful human connections, and the flowering of the vulnerable, courageous self that is unafraid to express its perspicacity.

The notion of perfectionism has long resonated with me, for all the wrong reasons. Its intoxicating, seductive promises struck chords with me, and for a long time, I immersed myself in this mindset. The part of me that longed to be vulnerable and gentle with myself had been smothered by the virulence of perfectionism. It felt more important to strive to be perfect than to exist embracing every aspect of myself. Yet in embracing the intricacy and imperfection of myself, I now can reveal the beauty there is in drawing power and meaning from every reservoir of my being.

Certainly, the task of embracing imperfection is not easy – but the reward is invaluable. To give yourself the space to be a flawed human being rather than chase the perpetually elusive ideal of perfection unfurls a wealth of expression, of variegated modes of being, of possibility and of self-awareness that are crucial to becoming a whole, integrated being. If we are humans suspended between becoming and being, it would best suit us to engage in the cultivation of our “selves,” so that we might more fully participate in the discovery and creation of our lives. Doing so requires our liberation from the constraints of perfectionism, for the allure of “the perfect” is wholly dissonant with the infinitude of our beings.

Imperfection does not mean inadequacy; instead, it means the cognizance that we are in the process of reaching our own fulfillment, without having achieved it yet. It is to accept and tolerate our  burgeoning selves with kindness. Too often students struggle with acquiring the next perfect jewel in the diadem of being – the next perfect grade, the next perfect score, the perfect internship ­– and equate these insignias of “perfection” with self-worth. It is okay to not be perfect. It is okay to show kindness and compassion to yourself. It is OKto struggle, to have questions, to be confused, to ask for help – this all shows inquisitiveness, which is paramount as we look to derive insight into ourselves and the structures of the world. To be inquisitive is to be a proactive, dynamic learner who wishes to discover and unveil the mysteries that pervade existence. We are already equipped to do so – what’s left is to give ourselves permission to be imperfectly infinite.