A year ago, remembering the awkward callus I gave my finger when trying to nail cursive writing in second grade made me realize how I’d been a patient of perfectionism all along. I always had to meet my deadlines and strive to be ahead of my own pre-planned schedules. I would always be wearing anxiety on my face, were I to realize I’d fall behind my schedule and not meet a deadline. I would always be thrilled when I’d outdo my own unrealistic benchmarks and beat myself up when falling short.
On the surface, perfectionism appeared to be a harmless (even a necessary) component of my personality- one that made me strive to reach the unrealistic level of ‘perfection’ I had built in my head. But perfectionism isn’t about perfection. At all. In fact, it is just the exact opposite of the impossible ideal of ‘perfection.’
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In a society that plays up its image-obsession and achievement-fetish some several notches above the hilt, all that perfectionism is to convince the perfectionist that nothing he/she does will ever be ‘good enough.’ As such, the perfectionist is only pushed further away from his end-goal of attaining ‘perfection,’ thus, left disgruntled in his achievement rather than coming out of it, proud, happy and satisfied. That’s what happened to me. I was never satisfied with what I achieved because I would always, ALWAYS find room for improvement. I’d always find a reason to move faster and achieve much more because I knew (or I thought I did) that everybody was upping their game constantly. Therefore, no matter my straight A’s through school college, a magna cum laude degree, an enviable career trajectory and a bunch of personal relationships that other people’d give up the world for- I was always looking out for more. Never, ever 100% satisfied with myself and the world around.
Suggested read: You and I … in this beautiful world
It took a close friend to hurl the word ‘perfectionist’ as an abuse in my face to show me how much I needed diagnosis. At first offended by the remark, I soon discovered that had it not been for him, I’d have succumbed to the fatal disease. I thought about it long and hard- at first, for a restless night- and then, for so many more. It took me a month and a half to admit it was suc*ing the life out of me and a month more to learn of the ways I could be happy with myself, at all times- perfect life or not. And the fact that I was a feminist but surprisingly, hadn’t put one of its most basic tenets to use helped.
Now, you must be thinking what the f*ck is the connection between feminism and perfectionism? Well, it wasn’t the most obvious connection to me either, until it was. Self-acceptance!
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As feminists, we are taught to accept ourselves as we are, without having to measure ourselves against any arbitrary standards that the society tends to judge individual merit or worth by. As feminists, we are taught that our imperfections aren’t inadequacies and that we are ENOUGH. We are GOOD ENOUGH- in ourselves, by ourselves, and of ourselves. That we do not need to evince our worth by trying to fit into our culture’s narrow definitions of ‘beautiful,’ ‘worthy,’ ‘admirable’ or ‘successful.’ And those are exactly the things I had to inject into my thought trails.
Each time, I had a nagging doubt about myself or my work or anything else, I’d bring out a marker and write the words ‘YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH’ on a post-it and pin it up around me. Soon, my work station at office, my study table at home, my dressing table, the mirror, my closet and even my refrigerator was flooded with notes that reminded me that I was ‘enough’ and that reassured me, despite a missed deadline or my inability to think of an ideal cover for our next project, that I was good. That I was doing great. It made me more self-aware about how intricately I had woven in perfectionism in my personality and what a doom it’d have spelt for me, had it gone unchecked. Of course, this awareness took time- and a lot of work (a lot, really)- but the results were worth it all. I was happier. More at peace. Brimming with positivity. The changes were evident.
What made the change even more conspicuous was that the post-its that flooded my desk and drawers during my early struggle and the challenge of testing feminism against my perfection were penned in neat cursive, with a strategic placement of text, right in the middle of the post-it, equidistant from the borders and so visually appealing it looked like a print version. The ones that came along slowly saw letters scrawled in a wild hand, uneven edges, crumpled post-its imperfect spaces, penciled-in reminders scribbled on the sides and an uneven placement on the mirror/refrigerator or wherever.
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Standing in front of my tapestry that continually reminds me ‘I’m good enough,’ I see not a series of imperfections, but a certain uniqueness in my smudged letters, not-quite-aligned post-its, my notes in the margins, even the smileys that get larger and better with every consecutive note! That’s when I see the second-grade version of me, proud of her artwork, waving back and saying how incredible all of this is. It isn’t in the way the words are scrawled or how the post-its are placed that my happiness lies in. It’s in what they say.
I am enough- and I do not need to be perfect for that. Just unique- unique like ME.
Featured image source: lifehack