Finding my own perfection
I was in the St. Louis airport this Tuesday after having come back from a college-sponsored trip to Boston. I had long debated going because it would be extremely hectic, but the trip was very successful because I learned a significant amount at the conference I attended and also enjoyed myself. As I looked at myself in the mirror of a Lambert International Airport bathroom that Tuesday, however, I could only think of what I had not been able to accomplish. I fretted about the impending exam I had that evening and belittled myself for not having studied enough despite having lugged my books all around Boston. I was putting myself down for everything I had not done and fully ignoring the success of my trip and the fact that I had balanced many responsibilities at once, at least reasonably well.
As I stared into the mirror for a while in that bathroom, picking out my own internal imperfections, I finally decided that I was being ridiculous. I could not keep constantly putting myself down so unjustly. I had worked hard and I had had a successful trip, but I had made it a habit to pick out my flaws, even in the most positive of situations. Acknowledging one’s flaws is a fantastic strategy for self-improvement, but like many of us, I have taken this technique to the extreme. Most of us have made daily perfection our goal and in the process have turned ourselves into our toughest critics. As I stared at the reflection of myself in the bathroom mirror that Tuesday afternoon, I realized that the person I saw was who I chose to see and I understood that I had been defining perfection incorrectly. I’m only human, and I could no longer ignore my flaws by vainly striving for an unrealistic image of myself.
I realized that I had to redefine perfection. Perfection is not necessarily the state of being flawless or executing your plans without any trouble. Instead, maybe perfection is found in the bone-deep exhaustion you feel after a long day of hard work. Maybe perfection means being able to smile as you turn off the light at night because you accomplished what you needed to that day and you enjoyed yourself along the way. Or perhaps perfection is trying to do difficult homework problems around little children who keep grabbing your papers, causing you to finally give up and laugh with them. Perfection is like a point on a sliding scale that we can shift. What is best for us one day may not be so the next day, and we have to be flexible enough to acknowledge this. Perfection cannot be chased and pegged down as so many of us try to do. Instead, one has to stumble upon perfection, and sometimes you can only find it by tripping over it and falling down laughing.
Mistakes are part of life, and anyone who does not make them is simply not human. We should acknowledge that our social gaffs and academic slip-ups are part of our human complexion. We are not machines and we would be defying normality if we did not make mistakes. Furthermore, experience really is the best teacher. We can obtain knowledge from books and professors, but to become wise we have to experience life, and often our mistakes and bad experiences can lead to more personal growth than a heap of awards and accomplishments. We should not fear the journey simply because we are afraid of tripping at some point along the way. In retrospect, it may in fact be these missteps that make the journey meaningful. If I had not gone on my trip, I may have done better on my exam, but I would have foregone the fun I had, the opportunity to meet old and new friends, and the invaluable experience of traveling.
Personal perfection is difficult and valuable to find because it is not a constant, but rather requires frequent reassessment. It is an intangible goal, that ultimately lies in contentment with ourselves and acceptance of who we are. While these thoughts flitted through my mind as I stood in the airport bathroom that Tuesday, I blinked and looked in the mirror again, and this time I saw someone reflected back at me who had had a successful trip to Boston while still balancing school work, extracurricular commitments, relationships and more. I smiled into the mirror and then walked on.