I’ve never been one to take the easy way out. Give me the black diamond slopes, the late-night shifts that bleed into early morning alarms and the questions with no simple answers. I thrive on challenges, high expectations and the pursuit of goals, and I’ve shaped my mind around a Latin word I stumbled across in high school and haven’t forgotten since: meliora — ever better.
Like the adage that reads, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars,” I shoot for perfection in hopes of landing somewhere between the thresholds of “good” and “great.” No breaks are allowed in my pursuit. No backwards steps. No grace.
And I know I’m not the only one.
This goal of perfection is a carrot on a string before the noses of so many college students, enticing us to keep running, stumbling, clawing our way forward. With every minor success, we tell ourselves we are almost there, that we are nearing the finish line, that perfection is just a heartbeat, a step, a breath away. We see perfection as the route to the life we hope to one day have, and we equate contentment with settling for less than the best. We tell ourselves we’d be bored without this constant trek, and maybe that’s true, but I refuse to believe that life is nothing more than an insatiable discontentment with our present circumstances, our present selves.
For so long, I have regarded perfectionism as both a lifestyle and a pathway. Only by aiming for perfection can I achieve my true goals, whatever they may be (read: pathway), and I can’t very well trek towards perfection if I don’t at least attempt to perfect all aspects of my life (read: lifestyle). The problem with this view? Perfectionism isn’t a way of life, it’s a way of avoiding life.
Perfectionism allows us to be singular in our mindsets, but it also isolates us in our minds. It gives us the willpower to push forward despite the setbacks, to face challenges head on and with fists raised, to continue placing one foot in front of the other towards our goals, but it simultaneously blinds us to our successes, allowing us to only see our failures and where we could possibly improve. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines perfectionism as “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.” This disposition helps us hold ourselves accountable to our goals and aspirations but also keeps us from ever truly being good enough.
In simpler terms: perfectionism is a lens through which we can see only how far we have to go and not how far we’ve come. It’s the coattails of a shadow, tempting us forward just to dance out of our grasp again and again. It’s smoke, visible only long enough to keep us chasing after it.
Please don’t misunderstand me: I am not saying not to set goals. We are students, and accomplishing goals — both large and small — is how we progress through college and into adult life. So by all means, aim for the moon and land among the stars, but don’t allow the constant, looming desire to be ever better overshadow what matters most in the present. We deserve an inch of slack. We deserve a breath and the chance to admire how far we’ve come. We deserve grace. Perfection is a myth, and wasting our lives in its pursuit will only leave us exhausted long before the end.