Writing by Olivia Ireland // Illustration by Paige Lambert
Life is whole and complete when you are perfect. It’s a world for the rare, talented and gifted people to experience. The rest of us must either continue to live our unhappy lives of imperfection or die trying to be perfect. It’s a strange concept, perfectionism; the definition of the word according to the Oxford Dictionary is the “Refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.”
I, like many young people today, adopted the art form of perfectionism. Exactly as defined, I was intolerable of failure. Beginning in my early teen years, I continued this practice until I became the master of it. By Year 12, I seemed pretty damn successful. I was School Vice Captain, excelling in my studies, had lost 7kg of weight and even had a boyfriend. For a Year 12 student, I had it all.
Yet there was a catch; I was utterly miserable. This caused me endless confusion; how dare I be miserable! I had everything, I’d won the lottery of life, I was successful in so many ways. But this is the hidden terms and conditions when signing the commitment of perfectionism. There will always be more to ‘achieve.’
“I need to lose another 7kg.”
“Why am I always fighting with my boyfriend? Our relationship should be #couplegoals.”
“Am I somewhere below 90% on a test?!”
“No one at school recognises me.”
“I need to be a better leader.”
Perfectionism is like a drug; after the first taste, you crave more. It’s addictive to get the momentary feelings of gratification and wholeness, whether it’s an A+ on a test, hearing the masses cheer your name with glory, or seeing a lower number on the scales.
Yet there’s a catch, perfectionism is only momentary and soon after, you crave something beyond it. Just like a drug, I was never able to get enough. I never felt satisfied, in fact I was lonely, sad and always hungry for a deeper meaning to life than certificates crowding my bedroom walls.
There is a key word in that statement. Was. Whilst I still hold various characteristics of a perfectionist, I no longer identify as one. So how did I do it? How did I free myself of the drug of perfectionism? And why would I want to? Surely my life is more miserable now as I have given up my place in the rare world shared with very few? Here’s the secret about all those successful people you see up on a stage, television, and atop the corporate ladder: they all embrace and accept their imperfections. It is impossible to be utterly perfect. It is a never ending game which sucks you up and takes you away from substantial, meaningful fulfillment. In order to be successful, satisfied and hold a great level of understanding about the world and yourself, you use your imperfections to your advantage.
So, to all my striving perfectionists, I invite you to try something very simple. Look out in the world, and see something imperfect you love. For me it was always nature. To watch the messy leaves take over my front pavement, mismatched flowers in the garden, it was much more beautiful than any garden crafted to the point where it looks artificial. Accepting and learning to love the imperfections of our world is the first step to accepting yourself. To accept yourself for your imperfections is almost automatic after that.
Towards the end of the year, letting go of perfectionism became more evident in me. I began to look at myself in the mirror, and appreciate the little muffin top coming out from my jeans. I made decisions as a leader that others didn’t necessarily appreciate, yet I felt were best. I blame myself less for issues in my relationships and appreciate my friends more. I take more risks now. I get a bit tipsy. I go on spontaneous road trips and live life with much less planning.
The life of a perfectionist is restricting. It feels like a grip so tight over you that breathing becomes difficult, where the only way to go is deeper into the dark hole of being ‘better’. Accepting yourself for who you are is when you start to feel free. You begin to do things you otherwise would never consider. The issue with being a perfectionist is you never take risks, you always live on the safer side, missing out on many joys life has to offer.
To all my striving perfectionists out there, I tell you this:
Letting go of trying to be the greatest you can be is hard, that momentary feeling of success is addictive.
However I can say, as a recovering perfectionist, who is no longer the leader of anything, holds lower grades than expected, a few kilograms heavier and very single, I am as free as I have ever been. You will only experience true happiness, true success and true fulfillment if you let down your guard, throw away the goal of being perfect and actually embrace everything you and your life have to offer. I can safely tell you, it’s a hell of a lot more exciting that way.