Spinach Salad Or Taco Bell: The Plight Of Perfectionism


I have never used the word “Eureka!” and I doubt I ever will. Sorry, Archimedes, it’s not going to happen. Yet, I feel this word is the closest I’ll come to that explains my grand epiphany that has occurred to me in bits-and-pieces over the year.

Friends all around me seem to be having breakthroughs or breakdowns recently. Drunk with power or hungover with bruises. Beyonce or well, anyone but Beyonce. These extremist attitudes move farther and farther away from ideas of normalcy and regularity. Instead of living in it, people seem to be on top of the world or crushed by its weight. Sometimes, even within the same moment.

These observations came after my own introspection, often in cliché coffee shops looking out the window on rainy days. For my last year in college, I entered with a wide-eyed notion of “Make every day count.” It’s what every relative, recent graduate, and Facebook status told me to do. A mix of obedient and impressionable, I adopted the mentality as my own. Go out with friends on a Monday! Bring someone home! Never look back! No regrets! Days that seem to previously end with periods now were ending with exclamation points.

Soon, I realized that it’s hard to live when there’s always screaming – especially when that screaming comes from inside your own head. My days became a rollercoaster of emotion with elations and crashes seconds away from each other. Paved with alcohol, coffee, and exhaustion from an overuse of both, this ride always seemed to accelerate. I learned that sometimes dependency doesn’t come from the substances but rather the rituals that we feel called to do.

Looking up to the ceiling that looked back down, tangled in disheveled sheets, I asked myself, “Why am I always in a state of flux and confusion? There has to be more than this.” Then it hit me. Maybe not in that particular moment, but after a build up of myriad phone calls to my mom and 3 a.m. musings. The lifestyle of extremes – a relative and individualized word – derives from the sweeping epidemic of perfectionism.

I’ve always denied perfectionism, thinking back at vague clinical definitions. How could I be a perfectionist when my room is always a mess? Or since I often come to class with Yu-Gi-Oh-like hair minutes after it starts? Perfectionists are supposed to be constantly put together with brushed hair, a matching outfit, and a to-do list written in handwriting fit for a grandmother. This is after sunrise yoga and a homemade egg-white omelet with handpicked, farmer’s market vegetables, of course.

Yet, the modern and updated Elle Woods of the world constitute the traditional image of perfectionism – the concreteness of everything being just so. This image, however, is translated from a way of thinking that is becoming more pervasive yet differently seen. It’s born from an “all or nothing” mentality. An A or an F. A spinach salad or Taco Bell.

Proactive motion and paralysis often go hand-in-hand. What may motivate some scares others. Looking back at missed papers or days I didn’t set foot in the gym (read: most days), I realized I was so intimidated by not doing it 100% correctly that I didn’t want to do it all. I fit the culture of consumerism which holds the tacky “But wait, there’s more!” philosophy. If you’re not going for a run with specialized Nike shoes and a Fitbit, is it worth going at all? If you’re not studying in a space fit for a well-liked insta, is it even worth studying?

As the deadline of the big “G” word of graduation looms closer and closer, I wish I didn’t always wait for things to be perfect for me to do them. Don’t get me wrong, I did a lot as proven by blurry iPhone pictures and stories to match. But, I wish I realized more clearly the beauty of mistakes and the value of smaller steps.

Maybe this comes from a cultural fear of failure. Maybe a belief in a strategic use of time. The cause is complex and multifaceted and takes some digging and journaling and late night walks. It goes hand-in-hand with larger concepts of jealousy and self-esteem and worldview. The root is important, but grasping the stance of perfectionism may be the first step before delving into any of it.

Tina Fey said it best when talking about Lorne Michaels in regards to Saturday Night Live in her book, Bossypants (a book I definitely wasn’t in the main demographic for but unabashedly love anyway). “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.” It doesn’t have to go perfectly, it just has to go.

This is not to glorify being sloppy or poorly doing anything, but rather to do something rather than nothing when nothing is becoming too much of the chosen road.

Looking to the future, I hope to put faith and effort into cultivating something real, laden with mistakes and built on successes. Maybe it’s not about the song, but rather the rhythm at which it goes. Eureka.