June 18, 2016

How I Escaped from the Prison of Perfection.

Hernán Piñera/Flickr

We all want to be perfect, to be pretty, to be the best and the nicest we could possibly be.

We want to be good to the people around us, to the world and at our jobs. We want to be slim (or whatever the current fashionable standard is), to fit in and look like models. We want it all and laboriously strive for perfection in everything we do.

And the funny thing about all of this is that it seems like a noble thing to reach for. I definitely thought it was-–-until I had a serious case of anxiety disorder.

I plummeted towards it in complete oblivion, totally convinced that if I just worked my butt off, got straight A’s at university and graduated at a mere 20 years of age, I would definitely be okay for life. I mean, such an achievement would get me so much credit that everyone couldn’t but compliment me on my wonderfulness. Right?

Well, what actually happened was exactly the opposite.

The very act of wanting to be perfect is what made me feel like a failure to begin with. Anything I did was never going to be good enough because it wouldn’t have been perfect. I felt stuck, I couldn’t move or get away from it. I’d practically turned myself into a prisoner of perfection—and I saw no way of escaping any time soon.

I got so insecure about everything I did that I ended up having to quitting university for a year. I fretted my way through my never-ending days and eventually had to take anti-depressants to be able to function at all. There I was, that girl with the high standards, wrapped up in a ball of misery going nowhere.

I learned the hard way that having too high expectations causes stagnation in its most perfect form—and that, funnily enough, perfection doesn’t even exist at all. Aiming for it is like trying to catch hold of the clouds, clutching them tightly and wishing they’ll never slip away.

It’s such hard work to get there, to take all the steps and when we finally do reach the sky, the clouds disappear the moment we try to grab hold of them. They show up somewhere else, somewhere higher up and we start reaching for them again, and again—and again. Until we realize, we’re never ever going to get there, which makes you feel like a complete loser.

And that’s where the mind tries to play its nasty little trick on us. It tries to tell us that we failed. That once more, we didn’t do it right. That we didn’t get there the way we were supposed to. And that, again, we ended up below our standards. Can you imagine how much fun my mind and me had for all that time?

But what are those standards and who thought of them in the first place? I figured that they only appeared in the story called The Imaginary Land of Perfection written by no-one else but me, myself and I.

This meant that I had the key to free myself from this stifling prison of perfection. It meant that I had a choice: I could either continue trying to reach for the unattainable and feel miserable as a result, or decide to let go of that unrealistic goal and do the stuff I wanted to do anyway—regardless of the result.

And that’s exactly what I did. I consciously lowered my standards and asked myself what I really wanted to do. The answer was simple: do my graduation project in Italy; the land of my dreams. This bold move made me feel so fulfilled that it allowed me to find my own strength back and put anxiety on the back seat.

I learned that in the end it’s all about deciding to live life fully and to let go of all expectations.

Yes, I know this sounds counterintuitive, because having something to aim for helps us on our way, right? But if this aim is so far beyond our reach, we very often decide not to move at all. And that is way worse than taking the risk of doing something, which might end up being much less than perfect. At least if we’re moving then there’s no chance of rotting away in the self-made prison.

“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Life is not about being perfect. Life is about living, being experienced and felt in all its facets—even the ugly ones. Once you can give up on your expectations of perfection for yourself and the world around you, your life will become so much lighter. It will become so much more interesting, fun and exciting, which will inevitably lead to a happier you. And isn’t that what you’re trying to go for in the first place by wanting to be perfect?

Leave those dreary prison walls behind you and embrace life and all its imperfections instead. Now that is actually a noble thing to aim for, isn’t it?



Author: Sophie Kruijsdijk

Image:  Hernán Piñera/Flickr

Editors; Sara Kärpänen; Renée Picard

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