In Pursuit of Perfection (And Why I’ve Given Up On It)
For a really long time, I committed my life to what I saw as the pursuit of perfection.
I wanted the perfect job, the perfect career, the perfect house; the perfect partner, the perfect relationship, the perfect family. The perfect body, perfect make-up, perfect hair. I wanted people to look at me and think that I was perfect. That I had the perfect life. How I actually felt about it, well, that wasn’t quite so important, but as long as I could project this view of perfection, of success, of achievement, then everything else would fall into place.
I have no doubt that some of this came from the fact that I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, a mental illness which drives me to believe, on some level, that if everything is As It Should Be, then the Bad Thing that I have a crippling fear of this week won’t happen. Tap the door the right number of times? Use the right kind of toothbrush? Count to the right number enough times in my head? As soon as I achieve that kind of perfection, I’m in the clear. Well, actually, not at all, but for as long as I am working on that perfection, then I’m not consumed by the idea of the Big Bad of that particularly week, right?
And, recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about perfection. Because, honestly, a lot of the choices I’ve made in the last year or so have been a step away from the perfection that I was sure I wanted to achieve. I’ve gained weight, let up on the restrictive dieting and over-exercising that were keeping me at the size I felt like I should optimally be. I’ve stopped worrying about working seven days a week for ten hours a day or more, just to say that I am really committed to my job. I’ve come to accept that any and all relationships go through points of abject shithousery, and that it isn’t a reflection of my worth as a human being that these things continue to happen. And my life has become slightly-to-exceptionally easier as a result.
Which is a weird thought, to be honest. Because for a long time, I put all my stock in this idea of perfection being what I needed to work towards in order to earn happiness. I really believed, deeply, that in being able to claim all these aspects of perfection for myself, that I would stop feeling all the shitty things that I felt about myself.
But really, it was just a distraction from those shitty things – I can’t count how many times I moved the goalposts on what perfection looked like to me, just so that I would have something else to pursue. In the same way that lying in bed tapping out counts on my wall over and over again was a distraction from the bad thoughts that were brewing in the back of my mind, continually forcing myself to chase down this notion of success because it seemed easier than stopping to contemplate the issues that were actually at hand. If you’re constantly in motion, all your problems look like a blur, a smudge in your rearview mirror that can be avoided or ignored for just a little longer.
Giving up on that relentless pursuit was pretty much the process of allowing those things to come into focus. And it sucked for a long time, it really did – I don’t think anyone is out here having the time of their lives trying to improve their mental health and deal with long-standing issues, not least at a time like this one. And sometimes, I read an article about self-improvement, or I see another thirty-day workout plan, and I think – fuck it. Maybe I could just go after this little slice of perfection, just once, just to see.
But throwing myself in the direction of what I think perfection should be just hasn’t made anything better. It’s another compulsion, another way to avoid what’s going on inside my head for just a little while longer. And letting go of that has been one of the best things I’ve done for myself. No, my life is never going to be perfect. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be better. And that seems like a goal that’s worth of working towards for a change.