I was a strict perfectionist in high school who gave myself no room for failure. When the standards for yourself as a 16-year-old are to be the cutest, smartest, funniest, kindest, most likable one in the room, debilitating anxiety sets up shop.
After I graduated high school, I went back to therapy. I decided that the first goal I would have was to deconstruct the image of myself as this perfect person. Which was great! Except that I started to practice another harmful ideology: Instead of trying to be clean-cut and crisply perfect, I decided I was just going to be me—imperfectly perfect.
I began to put this insane amount of pressure on myself to be this “imperfectly perfect” person, but that did not work. I had already labored on not being perfect in therapy. Now I had fallen into the trap of trying to be imperfectly perfect, which was equally unattainable.
I was not going to give a damn what anyone thought of me.
I was going to be so laid back.
I was going to tell all the jokes I wanted.
I was going to be so flippant and relaxed; everyone would want to be me.
I was going to do everything perfec…wait.
I didn’t realize initially that trying to be “imperfectly perfect” sets you up for the same losses that trying to be perfect does.
You set these strict expectations for yourself, and when you don’t meet them, you feel disappointed. You think, “Well, now who am I if I’m not *this adjective* or *this adjective* or *this adjective?*” You go right back into those soul-crushing, staring-at-the-wall, gut-wrenching bouts of feeling purposeless and identity-less.
Because of these well-traveled fears, I feel like my anxiety is so paralyzing in some social situations that I don’t know which way is up, despite being a blazing extrovert. Sometimes I feel like something is genuinely wrong with me. Like I don’t know how to be a human correctly because I run over everything I’ve said and done in my head.
When I step back for a moment and hear how harmful my self-talk is, I feel the overwhelming urge to pull myself into a hug and squeeze myself tight.
I am not alone in this, so that means neither are you. And there is no “correct” way to be human.
Whenever I go into spirals of anger, I ask myself a comforting and constructive question: “Would I ever talk to someone I loved this way?” The answer is always no. We would never talk to someone we loved in the negative way we talk to ourselves, which is bananas because our own selves should be the ones we are kindest to. We are only with one person our whole lives, and that is ourselves.
Since I was 12 years old, my constant issue was trying to be everybody’s favorite person in the room. But, again, that is setting myself up for failure. Nobody can be everybody’s fan-favorite because people are all different and prefer different senses of humor, vibes, tones, and personalities. Thinking, “how dare I literally not be everyone’s favorite person,” was damaging and made me feel bitter and resentful. It is heartbreaking to realize you were being nasty to the world because you were scared of being hurt by the world.
One of the most important lessons I have learned is this: stop trying to be adjectives for everyone and start trying to just be yourself for you.
You are more complicated, fascinating, maddening, and incredible than adjectives can describe. You can be both sensitive and strong. You can be both witty and serene. You can be both passionate and mellow. You can be both impatient and even-tempered. You can be both furious and loving. You can be both sad and elated.
I would set certain adjectives as my standard, like witty, kind, and vivacious. Then when I had my moments of weariness, intolerance, and serenity, I would feel like an imposter, a failure.
“I was supposed to be kind? Why am I not always kind?
“I’m supposed to be funny. Why am I not feeling funny?”
“I thought I was energetic? Why am I being so boring?”
I was beating myself up for not being the “imperfectly perfect” version of myself I had envisioned.
There is no such thing as perfect. There is no such thing as the perfect spouse, the perfect friend, the perfect daughter. Perfect people don’t exist.
We are all imperfect and not in a cutesy bedhead “I just woke up like this” kind of way. We are flawed in a drooling-on-your-pillow, getting-too-sweaty, waking-up-with-crusts-in-your-eyes kind of way. It’s not cute and sweet all the time, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad or anything to be ashamed of.
We are convinced that life consists of two ways to be: good or bad. And “bad” doesn’t just mean being a shitty person; we view bad as being too loud or naive or irritable or pouty or hyper. We file all these normal human traits under “bad.”
When we choose to omit the “imperfect” parts, we create unrealistic standards of how to be and how we want to be perceived in life.
For example, whenever someone does something more advanced than me, I get a stomach ache and nervous sweats. I’m like, “oh no, they’re just as smart as I am….that means I’m not special; oh no!”
But you are not that person, and you will never be anyone besides you. You can’t compare your life path to theirs because you were given completely different genes, circumstances, opportunities, and DNA. It’s like comparing an orange tree to a teapot.
It always feels like a loss when you try to do what everyone else is doing and be The Every Woman for everyone because it is not a sustainable way to live.
I’m trying my best, and I make huge, embarrassing mistakes.
I can be intolerant and irritable and messy and emotional, and it’s not all romantic or beautiful. It can be frustrating and maddening, but that doesn’t mean I’m broken or bad or worthless. I’m human—and I don’t have to be what everyone wants or needs. I couldn’t possibly be. I just want to try to be good when I can, and I want to be okay with that. Inevitably, I will fall short again and again, but all good people do.
We need to learn to be gentle with ourselves. We need to be gentle when we are angry, sad, or impatient. We need to choose to love ourselves always and fully.
You are not perfect, and you never will be. And that’s okay.
Allow yourself to accept that and love yourself, not despite but because of all the moments you fell short, made mistakes, and were glaringly imperfect.