In the dawning age of a Black Mirror reality, “perfection” is less a lofty ideal and more of a round-the-clock workout. In addition to all the old mechanisms of achieving perfection—i.e. the body, the job, the guy, the hair, the makeup, the wardrobe, the shoes, the apartment, the car, the handbag, etc.—there now exists a constant need to “appear” to be living in the heavenly bliss that is perfection on all social media platforms at all times, including (but not limited to): Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube, Tinder, Bumble, The League, Hinge, Snapchat, FOMOFactory (okay, I made that last one up). You get it. Perfection = Chinese water torture.
Admittedly, even without the vices of social media, I am a perfectionist. I strive for perfection in all things that I do. Sometimes, if I’m not perfect at something, I’d sooner give it up entirely than suffer the indignity of being—gasp—mediocre. There’s a shrill voice inside me akin to the devil on your shoulder (the angel gave up and left a while ago). Except my little perfection devil is more of a teeny-tiny nag that eats away at me with a snarky, shrill voice ringing in my ears. I can always do more at work. I can always go harder in an exercise class. I can always find a hotter guy. I can always cook better. Clean better. Be thinner. Style my hair better. Dress better. Sing in the shower better. Literally, if I push myself harder, I can do anything better.
The truth is, I’m excellent at a lot of things. And the ugly truth is, it’s almost killed me.
With this innate drive to achieve and succeed, I’ve done just that: a lot of achieving, a lot of succeeding. I earned a generous scholarship to a great school. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in three years, graduated summa cum laude in three years with a 3.9 GPA, worked full-time at a fabulous job my last year of college, and received an associate level job when I graduated. I moved into the perfect apartment which, of course, I decorated equally perfect. Got the perfect roommate. Went to the fanciest clubs and restaurants, shopped at the nicest stores. Took the best Instagram pictures at the snazziest places with lots of celebs (yes, I was that person). On the surface, I rocked. On the inside, I was hollow.
You see, I never did any of that for myself. I did it all to be perfect. More importantly, I did it to prove to everyone else that I was perfect. If revenge is a dish best served cold, then being the most Instagram-perfect human you know is a double middle finger to all the haters (is that too millennial?).
If you guessed a sharp downward cycle ensued, you’d be right. But if you thought the sharp downward spiral would be followed by a glorious Phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes moment that would forever lead a changed and more humbled life, you’d be wrong.
For the longest time, I thought life was a beautiful arc. There’s the build-up and the excitement of high school, college, the early-to-mid twenties, then you reach the peak with the dream job, guy and family combo, then you level out into the smooth-sailing abyss in the white picket fence house telling all your snazzy adult friends about your glorious rise to fame. In reality, life is more like what a monitor of my heart would look like on a typical day drinking 18 cups of coffee. (Slow day for me). Major up, followed by a major crash, followed by more up, more down, up, down, up, down, down, up, up, beeeeeeep.
In all my crashes and burns, I’ve learned that sometimes, burning yourself to the ground is necessary. Even if you grit your teeth and hold your breath the entire team. Because whether you’re too stubborn to admit it or not, the Universe knows best, and ashes really are the best fertilizer.
Instead of obsessing over making all things perfect now, I’m obsessing over being perfectly happy. I allow myself to have hobbies, and to be great at those hobbies. I let myself rest. On certain days, I do nothing at all and don’t have an immediate panic-attack-slash-existential-crisis. I try my best not to beat myself up when I’m not immediately the best at something. For once in my life, I actively focus on loving myself, nurturing myself. I’m not always perfect at being perfectly happy, but learning to accept that is all part of the process, anyways.
After all that, my point is this: I’m a perfectionist, and while it’s ruined parts of my life, those parts needed ruining. I needed rebuilding. I needed failure. I needed heartbreak (boys and career). Again and again. They all burned my heart to ashes, but I didn’t die. I replanted.