It’s funny, this unattainable yet endlessly sought-after idea of perfection. Not in a gleefully shrieking-while-trying-to-escape-the-tickle-monster kind of way. Not really in a roaring belly laugh, milk-sputtering-out-of-your-nose kind of way. Not even in a muffled-snort-while-passing-notes-in-class kind of way. It’s more so humorous in a misleading-reflection-along-the-winding-hallway-of-a-carnival-funhouse kind of way. This quest for perfection distorts our images of ourselves, and, after spinning out of control for a little while, leaves us feeling like we might lose the funnel cake we ate earlier in the day.
Why then do we insist on chasing this playground bully over and over again? Do we get some sick enjoyment out of being tripped on the sidewalk, getting shoved against lockers, and told we are “booger-brained butt-heads?” Or are we just mesmerized by the prestige of it all, like a glinting golden trophy shining just above our reach, always one more inch higher than we can go?
For the past six months, I’ve felt this spiteful abstraction creeping at the edge of my heels, pushing me until I nearly topple over from the weight of its hammer fists. It lives in the seemingly flawless four-year plan I meticulously constructed for myself at the beginning of my freshman year. It chimes in the choruses of well-meaning folks praising how “I’ve got it all together” and “I’m going to do such great things.” It hides in the quiet utterances I buzz in my own ear, quipping, “That’s not good enough. You’re not good enough.” It swings in the fiery quarrels between my head and heart, my good sense and adventurous spirit. I’ve allowed this frenzied animal to chomp at the bit, trying to steal my sense of security, grasp on myself, and control of the reins for far too long, and it’s time to set that sucker free.
I don’t know if we’re ever truly ready to say goodbye to something, though, especially those things that cause us pain. We cling to these angelic demons because at least we’re feeling something, and, despite popular belief, that’s OK. The hot pressure tears boiling over onto your cheeks don’t signify defeat. The soothing and strong embrace of a caring friend doesn’t signify weakness. The decision to do something for your own happiness instead of everyone else’s doesn’t signify failure. These moments where falling apart seems to be the only option are not the sum total of your existence.
We need these moments to understand and appreciate those glimmers of pure and true happiness. The joy in your grandmother’s voice when she hears you on the other end of the phone. The wildness of the stars as you gaze in wonderment at the masterpiece glistening above you. The soft purring of your cat as she nestles her chin in the palm of your hand. All these things and more signify a life that’s nuanced and significant and exhausting and invigorating and wonderful and awful all that the same time.
I was sitting with the young woman I care for one morning, and she looked over at me with sunny eyes full of wonder, exclaiming “My brain opened the door to the countryside! Isn’t that wonderful?” This statement struck me as infinitely profound. She uttered those poetic yet simple words with such vigor, and she was unapologetically sure of herself, and of the brightness inside of her. Her wise outlook brought me to this conclusion: I can continue to treat life’s hiccups as if they are there to suffocate me, or I can hold my breath, count to 10, and move on. We all possess the key to the door leading out into the countryside; it’s time to say goodbye to the myth of perfection and welcome in the bright light of day.