Aiming for Perfect
I wanted to plan the day perfectly for me and the girls and get to the library before they had a chance to scream in the car. Then this happened.
I once had a very good friend tell me that something was bothering her about the way everything appears in the lives of other people. She leaned in over our table at the coffee shop and asked me, “Why does it seem like everyone else is perfectly happy and stress-free in their relationships and lives? Whenever I talk to a friend, everything seems terrific and no one can relate when I have some issue or fear I bring up. When I ask, ‘Has this ever happened to you?’ and they say ‘Nope!’ I’m like, ‘Umm…me neither!’” I don't remember exactly what I responded with, but I've been thinking about the conversation ever since.
I once read an article on a popular career and lifestyle blog about a young woman’s past struggle with drug addiction in a competitive, private school. It was different from the usual posts of young, successful entrepreneurs whom you secretly worry have everything figured out by the age of 25 with a boutique business and a chic city apartment. One commenter on the article stood out to me when she wrote, “Thank you for publishing this story…such a great break from all that seems perfect.”
Something must be wrong if we're so surprised and relieved to hear that someone else struggles. The more we strive for perfection, the more we feel a lack of community and compassion as we each keep our personal "weaknesses" hidden away from one another in embarrassment and shame. A few years ago, a friend shared with me that she grappled with grades and feeling smart in high school. As someone who desperately wanted to appear smart in high school, I couldn’t get myself to share with her - in my twenties - that I dropped advanced science because I was getting Ds on everything. I remember sitting in the car, her words hanging in the air, and mine not making it out to meet them.
What's hardest for us to put into words, even though we feel it, is that no one can feel truly close to someone else if they believe that person to be perfect. You don't believe they can relate to your fears, your shortcomings, or your shameful failures, so you don't dare to tell them about anything you're going through. The problem is that as we get older, we only continue to both add on expectations and have false visions of how everyone else is doing. We endlessly praise the people we believe to be perfect and we imagine that they are effortlessly ambitious, successful, grateful, and upbeat in every part of life.
To actually be perfect, to never experience even one personal downfall, would mean you would never be able to empower others by the personal "demons" you've battled or offer comfort to a friend by sharing your own story. The only way to build more empathetic and meaningful relationships, and a more compassionate society, is for people to resist the temptation to appear flawless. We shouldn't feel pressured to share anything we don't want to with people we don't trust or with the masses, but we also don't need to live our lives with a mask of what we think everyone else wants to see. In fact, I've started to really notice how much we all hope to get a glimpse of someone without one on.