I’m a crippling perfectionist.
Some of you might be right there with me, living terrified of the thought of doing anything that falls short of intrinsic or extrinsic expectations of yourself.
I get it.
Much of our culture is defined by perfection, especially on the North Shore. Our schools are high-achieving; polished GPAs and grocery-receipt-length lists of extracurriculars are the expectation.
It makes sense that perfectionism has seeped into our psyches and made many of us cower in the looming shadow of failure.
For most of my life, I passed up on opportunities that I knew I would not immediately excel at. To paraphrase Dear Evan Hansen, a favorite musical of mine, I was slamming on the brakes before I even turned the key: I was so paralyzed by the fear of being anything less than perfect that I didn’t bother to do anything where excellence wasn’t guaranteed.
However, life turns quite grey when you only stare at the same colors for its duration. Remaining in my narrow lane of guaranteed success left no room to veer left or right and explore genuine interests; all opportunities for self-improvement displayed the illusory foreshadow that they would inevitably end in a lethal crash.
While it’s hard to convey tone via a few lines worth of text, I hope my message is clear: this is no way to live!
While it is by no means a vice to strive to produce excellence, a problem emerges when that mindset prevents growth opportunities and stifles attempts to explore passions.
Say you’re driving in this narrow lane of perfectionism, mirrors nearly scraping the barriers that keep you in your comfort zone. What is there to do? For me, the solution laid in doing things for the sake of doing them, no matter the quality of the finished product.
Paint that old pair of shoes that have been sitting in the back of your closest for ages in your favorite colors.
Sit at the piano and plunk out a few dissonant keys, even if you have no idea what any of the note names are.
Write cringey middle-school-style poetry with disconnected metaphors that would make even the most gracious English teacher wince.
Take mediocre pictures of the sunset, some of them so bright that the color white is redefined.
Bake way-too-dry chocolate chip cookies. Sing “Driver’s License” off-key in the car. Make up an uninspired dance to an early-2000’s pop hit (might I suggest “Dynamite”?).
Live the moments of life that are meaningful because of the simple fact that they are flawed. These moments, I have found, wipe the grey tint from life and reframe it in a dented and scratched picture frame that makes the picture inside all the more beautiful.
I won’t pretend that I’m freed from the chains of perfectionism—I still shoot for final drafts on the first try and spend way too long fixing wall decor that looks the slightest bit crooked.
But, I’ve dipped my toes into the waters of fallibility and found that, although bruising to the ego at times, the moments of mistakes, screw-ups and shortcomings hold far more life in them than the moments of pristine perfection ever could.