Perfectionism is toxic

The greatest life lesson I’ve learned is that the relentless pursuit of perfection will leave you empty-handed and hollow-hearted.

Strive to be a better version of yourself every day.

Improve yourself in 7 easy steps.

Got wrinkles? Buy this age reducing skin creme to reverse the effects of time!

Do these all sound familiar to you?

They should.

Because society has come to market and capitalize on our insecurities.

Got thinning hair? Buy this shampoo to make your mane look more voluminous.

Want to be successful? Copy the early morning habits of the ten most successful billionaires.

And on and on and on. I’m sure you get the gist by now.

I’ve just grown tired of trying to be someone Im not, of holding this image in my head of someone who’s so much better looking and more charismatic than I am — slimmer with an angular face and eye-circle-less eyes and a photogenic smile to flash the world and exude positivity from every inch of my being.

Oh wait — I think I found her:

Here she is! The combination of Photoshop and makeup and fake lashes and more. I remember watching contentedly as they photoshopped away my chubby cheeks and slimmed my arms and legs to my satisfaction.

I remember going to this photo shoot to indulge in my own sense of vanity — to see what it would be like if I were to become a celebrity or a pop star, to achieve the heights of fame I once dreamed of as a middle schooler.

But then I realized how much this symbolized how most things in life seem nowadays: heavily edited, filtered, and changed so that they no longer portray an accurate reflection of reality.

In reality, most of my smiles mask this:

… which — as an unedited, unfiltered picture of what I really look like — more accurately depicts how I’ve been feeling over the past few weeks.

I’ve grown tired of constantly editing and tweaking my words to make them sound better, searching for the perfect sentence to convey the right amount of impact.

I’ve grown tired of searching for minimalistic emojis to cover up deeper emotions of sadness or guilt or shame.

I’ve grown tired of seeing so many supersaturated photos of places that may look mediocre at best but are artfully captured and then edited beyond recognition so that, even if you came across the same places in reality, you wouldn’t be able to recognize them.

It’s like when people take pictures of gleaming skyscrapers and skylines without paying any attention to the slums, or how those who are impoverished live well below their means beside those who amass great wealth. How people focus so much on what’s accepted as beautiful without noticing the flaws and cracks underneath.

I think so often people admire others for their strength and bravery and courage without acknowledging that they, too, are flawed and have their moments of weakness. And oftentimes, we are harsh on ourselves for slipping up or acting inconsistently or experiencing a moment of weakness.

Over time, I’ve come to view vulnerability as a strength. I see emotional expression as essential to understanding what it means to be human. The brave faces we put on to fight our inner demons each day can mask our own fears and insecurities to the point where others must pry to unearth them.

It’s funny because oftentimes people say that we’ve come to lose a sense of privacy in today technologically-laden world. Yet the news and media we consume show only one side or facet of a multifaceted reality.

I’ve written many times about the many flaws of social media, I know. I won’t bother to go through them all again. But I do believe that, as far as news sources go, too often we find that the news shares only the tragedies and triumphs in the world.

Other than that, we often consume entertainment that contains little substance but encourages us to laugh for the sake of laughing.

I know that, with the prevalence of bad news dominating most of the media, people often find positivity more refreshing, but I’ve just found time and time again that expecting yourself to be positive and upbeat no matter what is too much to ask for.

When it comes to things like grief or depression, it’s difficult to maintain a facade of happiness.

Grief, as it’s portrayed in movies, may be experienced after someone’s death for a few seconds before the storyline continues on without a second thought. And yet grief in real life can take years to process, if not longer.

Funerals are hardly occasions for photo shoots, yet weddings are often swamped with happy pictures. We document mostly the happiest things in life as opposed to the losses, commemorating lasting friendships and relationship anniversaries while hiding breakups and friendships where you’ve drifted apart.

While I don’t expect sharing news of tragedies to reverse the cycle of blind positivity, I do think that this can often lead people to overlook or invalidate the pain people are experiencing.

Too often I’ve heard of cases where people whose beautiful, flawless Instagram posts masked their eventual suicide attempts due to depression or other causes.

Too often I’ve seen stories about people who, by all definitions of the word, appear to be successful yet are forced to deal with their own demons silently and ultimately choose to take their own life.

I remember the last picture I took before I planned to end my own life.

There was nothing to suggest that I had harbored suicidal ideation: no indication whatsoever of the emotional and psychological pain that I endured during that time.

But that’s around the time that I learned: perfectionism is toxic.

Trying to maintain an image of someone who was high achieving and happy and attractive and sociable cost me sleep. And very nearly my life, at a time when I wasn’t thinking clearly or able to maintain a sense of emotional stability.

That’s the thing, though — everyone in college seems to be a superhuman who has it together. But once you peer beneath the surface, you’ll often find that others are facing some of the same struggles you are.

For some, it was eating disorders.

For others, it was depression.

And for others still, it was crippling anxiety.

For me, it was schizoaffective disorder, which I believe manifested itself as a result of genetics and a high-stress environment.

They say diamonds form under pressure, but we, my friends, are not carbon crystals. We are human — we bruise when we fall, and we bleed when we are cut.

The pressure and anxiety that comes with being perceived a certain way can push people to breaking point. When you’ve crafted a caricature of yourself that is larger than life, you can lose sight of yourself in the process.

So I’ve learned: perfectionism is toxic.

We are not perfect, nor should we strive to be.

Self improvement is fantastic — to an extent.

You do what you have to do to prioritize your wellbeing. There are days you might have to fake it just to make it through the day, and there are days you feel on top of the world while being your true, authentic self.

Just remember: no one is perfect. Even the role models you admire who seem to have their lives together are likely dealing with their own issues.

What we can do is encourage and support each other along the way. Because life’s rough sometimes. Sometimes the burden seems to be too much to carry on your own. But if someone else willingly shoulders that burden with you, and they find someone to shoulder theirs — together, we can bear it. We can move forward, as the flawed people that we are. And maybe we’ll never attain that elusive perfectionism we so desire, but in struggling and fighting and trying and doing, we shall have done what we can do — and perhaps that shall have made all the difference.

Artist who thinks and feels out loud