If humans were books and chapters represented the various phases of life, our New York Times bestsellers with stellar critic reviews would be those special editions that represented our accomplishments. Truth be told, our lives are not dissimilar to those published manuscripts anyway, for we govern ourselves by the opinions of critics, some of which are external and most of which are internal. Seemingly, we only write about our failures long after we accumulate enough success to overshadow them. Why is it that we have to “learn” how to embrace ourselves; are we that innately flawed and entirely unworthy of our own attention or merely that consumed by the idea of perfection?
From the outside, our lives resemble the standard normal curve, where 95 percent of the time we exist between 2 standard deviations of self-confidence, oscillating in the residual 5 percent between self-appraisal and self-loathing. Yet in those deepest crevices of our being, we’re not as indifferent to criticism or as confident as we appear to be. In keeping up with appearances, we morph into our best salesmen and PR agents, silently broadcasting our filtered selves. While photography apps soften the more angular portions of our pictures, we consciously harden the softer sides of ourselves, making our outer shell impenetrable and invincible. We’re often told that it’s silly to wear our hearts on our sleeves and we foolishly agree, seldom realizing that it’s a blessing to experience the full spectrum of human emotions.
It’s seemingly acceptable to laugh when someone else is the butt of jokes but when we become the subject matter, it’s suddenly personal. In the pursuit for perfection, we turn to self-help books to look for ways in which we can fix ourselves but maybe we were never broken to begin with. In becoming the best version of ourselves, we sometimes become the most inauthentic version of ourselves, masking our flaws behind the façade of indifference or overconfidence.
Perhaps we took Shakespeare too seriously when he said “all the world’s a stage”. Somewhere between mastering our craft, we began to master our emotions. We see vulnerability as a flaw and perfection as the ideal. We hear things like “be yourself because everybody else is already taken”, implying that we’re runner ups, the placeholder for the next best in the race of life.
Surprisingly, it’s not sensitivity or failure that causes pain, it’s indifference and insignificance that we fear the most. Our need for perfection transcends our work, manifesting itself in our desire for the “perfect partner” or the “perfect house”. In striving to be flawless in every facet of our lives, we begin to develop a proclivity for categories: successful or not; graduate or not; married or not, etc.
We question, not to understand, but to reinforce what we want to hear. We write prose, not to express, but so that it may be read. Moreover, we speak to be heard and not to communicate. Upon asking someone “how are you” majority of us, if not all of us, refuse to be burdened with an actual answer to the question; “I’m well, thanks” usually suffices as the norm. In an age where small talk replaces conversations and networking replaces genuine connections, we enter a mentality where more is always better and the best is always under construction. When we hold ourselves to a standard that violates the very nature of balance, we set ourselves up for imminent disappointment.
Seek to be wholesome and balanced versus flawless and perfect. Be as mindful of what you think, as you are of what you say. Although life plays out reel by reel, you don’t get a rehearsal this time around.