When I was twelve, I read the book The Giver by Lois Lowry. A sort of Brave New World for the tween set, it’s about a confined society in which everything is Just So all the time. A society that’s been converted to “Sameness” – a plan that’s eradicated pain and strife.
Everyone is identical. No one feels. No one judges. Not ONE is flawed. No experience, no emotion, no hunger for life.
Apparently, I needed The Giver to awaken me to this thick sheet of cardboard being pulled over our eyes.
Perfection? It’s a hoax.
The allure of “being perfect” is the greatest con, the greatest scheme ever devised. Forget about the Photoshop, the glossy pages, even the high-def television. Perfection is a stagnant ideal and a consummation of all we find unsatisfactory, even the smallest parts. It’s an artifice to fool ourselves into believing there’s an excuse or that we’re failing. They are perfect, That is perfection is internalized and morphs into I am not perfect, This isn’t perfection.
Perfection is a pile of crap from both ends of the spectrum, no matter how you look at it. We live in a world where the sweetest apples are discarded for a touch of brown, where we inject plastic into the lines we’ve earned from reading novels late into the night, where we over-sterilize our doorknobs and under-appreciate our windows. No gray hair must be left unplucked, no thigh dimple dismissed without a vigorous rub of some magic oil that guarantees tightness in ten days or less. There’s too big, too small, and way too undefinable. We’re screwed no matter what we do or who we are.
And then there are the others: those people who seem to be constantly extolled for their beauty, their wisdom, their achievements. Their existence is idolized, their lives an exercise in perfection maintenance. And that…that is a huge burden to carry. It’s immense, unreasonable pressure to stay at a certain age, look, job and caliber indefinitely. Because what if we don’t? What happens when we falter – or maybe just aren’t astonishingly mind-blowing every single second? Will we still be loved?
Perfection is conditional love. It’s an invisible benchmark and a thick glass ceiling. It’s the expectation and the idealization of the absolutely monotonous. It’s a lonely, one-dimensioned load of bullshit, really.
The word “perfect” has haunted me my entire life. When I was in middle school, I would be called perfect as a taunt. I did not have braces, I liked to color-coordinate, I got good grades. Remember those multi-colored capris The Gap sold circa 1999? I owned a pair in every color, with shirt, shoes, and butterfly clips to match, natch. My middle part was striking, my bangs worthy of a New Girl cameo. I was easy to be around and nice to everyone. My awkward stage was mostly just awkward in my mind – or so I’m told.
Sounds great, huh? Yeah. Not really. Being teased about being “perfect” gave me a complex and a pressure unlike anything I’d ever known. I felt detached and alone. I felt I could not be myself; God forbid I spoke out of turn or mismatched a sock. There was an immense discomfort in knowing I was looked at as someone who had everything together. Who was “perfect.”
And then the taunts turned into praise and I just didn’t know what to do with it. Some would have rebelled. But no – I didn’t want to rebel. I just wanted to relate. So I downplayed my assets and kept them locked away. At the root of it, I feared loss. I wanted to guarantee love, and wanted to be normal. Please let me be normal, I’d silently beg. Do not love me for my light, because it sometimes gets dark in here and I can’t bear the loss when you realize that.
If we are what we believe we are, and we are what we tell ourselves we should be, then I guess the silent begging worked. I became a shell of myself, and in a small way I think I liked it for a second there. I am flawed, I seemed to say. Now you can see it on the outside, too. But it didn’t feel good after that hot second – and the reversal of my efforts proved to be even more trying. My attempts to feel good in my body were admirable at best, laughable at worst. I needed to feel good in my soul, first. I needed to stop equating imperfection with submission and perfection with isolation. I needed to just be.
And so I did. Slowly – what seems like so slowly – I owned those parts of myself that were both admired and that people raised eyebrows at, both abnormal and completely innocuous, both snowflake-distinct and Giver-cookie-cutter. I became myself.
I am wary of perfection. The ones who make it their life’s mission to be perfect, I’m onto them. There is something deeper there, there is something hiding and some voice inside that once told them that the only way to be is to be flawless. The ones who base their mission on being aces all-around 24/7, I don’t fault them for it – I empathize, because all of us have been conned at one point or another. Oh how I wish they could see how exquisite they all are, right now, even in their struggle – no – journey to finding out who they’re really meant to be in this world.
In The Giver, the conversion to Sameness wipes out each person’s emotional depth. And when the hero of the story is given the task of experiencing that depth, he finds he can’t force it. Because that sort of exquisite uniqueness cannot be forced. It must just be.
And when that happens? Oh my god. Those people are fascinating. Smart. Quick. Funny – no, hilarious – without even knowing it. Those people who are absolutely flawless in their quirks and nuances and extremes, who aren’t afraid to mismatch their socks or disagree with the world, or color coordinate all their outfits down to the shoelace. Those beautiful souls, who are extremely and unquestionably themselves? Those are the people I love, and the people we are all ultimately drawn to in the long run. Not the ones who homogenize their lives to be Just So.
Because let’s get real: this is not Sameness. This is life. In all its extremities and nuances. We are all those unquestionably flawlessly flawed people deep inside – we just need to be brave enough to dive deep and get there.
Be on purpose. Be a force – quiet or blazing, whatever you prefer. Whatever you are and whoever you are, be extremely you. At the end of the day, what else is there left? Find those tiny details and idiosyncrasies, and use them to support and enhance the extreme you-ness of YOU. It isn’t about the jarring highs or lows of “perfection.” It is about being unquestionably yourself.
Forget about the hoax, forget about utopia. There is no better person to be, no better place to live, than Oh-So-On-Purpose.
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