Perfectionism: a toxic ideal

Eve discusses the vague meaning of the term ‘perfect’, and how it can control your life unnecessarily. 

The etymology of the word ‘perfect’ is interesting. It comes from the Latin word ‘perfectus’ which means ‘completed’. However, in today’s society it means something much more complex than just ‘completing’ an action.

Throughout my life, I’ve had a constant struggle with perfectionism and striving for perfection in one way or another – in my physical appearance, in my friendships, in my studies. Rather than pushing me forward, my perfectionist complex has held me back on many occasions in many different aspects of my life. But recently, after starting to study the breakdown of words in my university degree, I realised just how arbitrary the word ‘perfection’ really is. What does it mean? I spent a lot of time pondering this and found that I couldn’t really come up with a conclusion.

Is it getting A’s in school? Well it couldn’t be because once you get the A’s, you probably then go to university where those grades don’t matter anymore. Is it getting a first in your degree? Once again, the same theory applies. Once you get into your working life, does it really matter? What about if you don’t have the picture-perfect relationship where your partner tends to your every single need without fail? Does it really matter as long as they’re trying their best for you? Well, no: it doesn’t matter because as Robin William’s character said in Good Will Hunting, ‘you’re not perfect sport, and let me save you the suspense: this girl you met, she’s not perfect either’. How about if your body isn’t as toned as it could be? Does it really matter as long as you’re happy? This is exactly my point – perfectionism does not make you happy. It is toxic.

Once you shake off the idea of becoming ‘perfect’ and instead accept things as they are, you free yourself. You lift the weight off and allow yourself to be good enough which, believe me, brings a lot more happiness: you can enjoy life without constantly worrying about ‘what if this was better’. You can accept that sometimes things go wrong, and that’s okay. Perfectionism is a vicious cycle of always wanting more and never just being.

I’ve recently come to terms with the fact that it is impossible to be perfect, which was hard because it was a concept I had previously valued very highly in my life. ‘Good enough’ is a very new idea to me and it is something I’m still wrestling with. However, I have made it a mission to let go of perfectionism and to try to be happy with things as they are. Besides, in the end, life is just a game so why not enjoy?

Eve Jackson

(Image courtesy of:’s-Perfectionism-Procrastination-and-Paralysis)

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