Problematic Perfectionism

I’ve lived with the presence of perfection for 21 years. “Perfect.” How do you define a word without concrete meaning? “To each his own,” the saying goes. So why push to attain an ideal state of being that no two random people will agree is where you want to be? Faultless. Finished. Incomparable. People can never be be these, and anyway, when did creating a flawless facade become a more vital goal than learning to love the person who lives inside your skin? The outside belongs to others. Only you should decide for you what is perfect. Or, even better, only you should decide what is enough.

In the recent years of my life, nothing has become more blatantly obvious to me than the fact that feeling like enough (in any aspect of our lives) is perhaps not the human default. It’s of great interest to me why it seems that we have to learn how to find comfort in ourselves, internally cultivate our confidence and contentment, and ultimately come to the conclusion that we need only be enough for ourselves, and that we are ALWAYS enough. I’ve thought long and hard about why I’ve spent my entire life having deep sentiments of inadequacy and never being good enough for things or people, and unfortunately, I think the perfectionistic mindset I’ve adopted is so much more nuanced and complex than I could have imagined. I genuinely cannot remember a time in my life where I felt fully and wholeheartedly “good” about myself, my achievements, where I stand in my life and in my relationships with others around me, etc. And while I think this internal desire I’ve always had to continue striving for better, higher, and more is an asset to an extent, I’ve also come to find that there is truly nothing more dangerous. Looking back on my growth over the years, I think one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made is thinking and convincing myself that my perfectionism was a positive character trait. I always understood it as being that innate essence within me that drove me to work as hard as I possibly could, continue setting higher and higher standards for myself, and never being okay with the complacency and satisfaction that could have accompanied any of my achievements or growth. My internal dialogue always told me, “you could have done better,” “it wasn’t perfect,” or “how could you screw that up?”, ultimately leading me to become absolutely obsessed with the idea of reaching that highest level of achievement of perfection I had idealized in my head. But that’s just the thing. My notion of perfection was (and still is) completely idealized, and it lacks any form of foundation or grounding. Nothing of meaning undergirds it, thus making the term itself somewhat insignificant and trivial. In other words, I found that for my entire life, I had conjured up my own understanding and significance for what I perceived perfection to be and even deemed it a virtue, hence giving it an entirely new import and power over my life. Though this process may have been subconscious and unintentional on my part, it set me up for a long road of discontent and dissatisfaction, beginning from a very young age.

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Looking back on my childhood, there is nothing I remember more about my personality than my extreme competitiveness. Whether that was a consequence of having two older sisters who I was constantly compared to and was expected to live up to (because they’re absolutely brilliant, strong and beautiful in every way) is definitely a thought that crosses my mind, but I know that the birth of my perfectionism came from more than just that. From the very beginning, it was a deeply-rooted internal desire that planted its seed in my mind as a child. I always wanted to be the absolute best at every single thing I ever did or tried, and that’s just the way it had to be. It was never enough for me to work hard and get an “A,” because it should have been a 100%. It was never enough to win a soccer tournament, because I probably could have connected more passes, taken more shots, or scored more goals. The insane amount of pressure I put on myself started very early on, and it definitely did not discriminate in how it manifested in every part of my life. In thinking about how my perfectionism and experience in striving to be this version of perfect I had created has impacted the course of my life, I try to be as gentle and forgiving as I can with myself. I know that, to some degree, I simply could not help the fact that my mind works in this way and that these thoughts are something so familiar and even natural for me. I also acknowledge that the structure of my life as a kid, young adult, and even now (simply a consequence of being a human being in this society) only worked to further encourage and harvest these dangerous seeds leading me to believe that I simply wasn’t good enough.

I don’t think I have to explain to anyone how our society works to endorse and promote some ideal of what is “perfect,” not to mention that there is a very distinct vision of what “success,” “health,” and “happiness” are as well. For me, I’ve found that in some of the most devious and insidious ways, the world constantly tells people that they aren’t enough. Right from the start, we’re groomed to believe that only those who go to college and obtain a good job will be successful, only those married and with children can understand the true nature and feeling of love, and only those who embody a very specific aesthetic can be considered beautiful. I grew up thinking that my joy and the contentment of my being as a person was completely dependent on my capacity to be “successful” (that is, wealthy). By the age of 5 and 6, I had already begun to believe that in order to be happy in this world, I had to have a good job and make a lot of money as an adult. And so my desire to one day become a lawyer was born. I didn’t know it then, but what I thought was a burning desire within me to become a lawyer and to help others through it was really just a mechanism through which I thought I could find joy and help MYSELF. I thought being successful in this way would make me happy. And what’s more perfect than being happy, having a successful career, and leading what seems to be an equally fulfilling and exciting life? Well, the fact that not only is perfection impossible, but that filling my life with empty promises to myself and believing that things like happiness and success were avenues by which I could somehow be perfect is the problem. Being career-oriented has always been part of who I am, and the perfectionism that took hold of me throughout my entire academic career (and still rears its head) proved to be extremely detrimental and problematic to my overall well-being, particularly in high school. I remember having long conversations with my mom prior to entering high school in which she advised me to push myself with the classes I chose, but not to overextend or overcommit, for she knew I would also be training, playing club and high school soccer, and involving myself in a multitude of other activities (because I also convinced myself that I needed to do it all and be “well-rounded”). Well, in classic Kamryn fashion, I told my mom I would think about just doing a few of the difficult classes but not pushing too hard, then ended up signing myself up for the full IB Diploma program. While there is nothing I appreciate more than the IB program, all of the growth it allowed me to have throughout those years, and the wonderful teachers I had who taught me more material and things about the world than I ever knew possible, those years were extraordinarily hard for me. I needed to be #1. So I was. I remember defining my entire value as a person by the number listed next to my name in the class rank section, and feeling like such a failure whenever I fluctuated in grades, status, etc. I had set goals for myself, and that was that. They just HAD to be achieved. I had the constant need to prove myself to everyone around me, to my family, and mostly to myself. I never felt good enough, so I relied on numbers and letter grades to give me the validation and worth that I had somehow lost (or never found) throughout the course of my life. Obviously, the way this story ends is that *spoiler alert* I ended up not being #1 in the end and falling down a rank, and my world came crashing down a little bit. This was the first time I was forced to face myself and realize that I had “failed,” and that I couldn’t be perfect. That moment changed a lot for me, but not everything. While I have worked on changing my thought patterns and (as cliché as it sounds) telling myself that working hard and doing my best will always be good enough and that my worth is not contingent upon how others perceiving me, my relationships/interactions or my success, unlearning all that I have been groomed to think about myself and learning how to engage with a healthy form of the natural competitiveness, drive, and passion within me is still brand new and a complete learning process. Still, I am learning and growing through this everyday, and my mere acknowledgement that I am not, nor will I ever be perfect is a start.

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As many of you already know, though, these past few years have been anything but smooth-sailing for me. And constant waves of change sets the stage quite perfectly (no pun intended) for my perfectionism to creep back into my life. I’ve found that my default is acting on my perfectionistic tendencies, which has been increasingly dangerous for me in my college years. After losing my mom and going through a terrible breakup, I immediately fled to the toxic coping skill I had always known to make myself feel better— hyper-focusing on elements of my life to make “perfect.” This time, though, it was my body. I had to be perfect in every way, so I began engaging in horrible habits that led me to developing an eating disorder that continues to pose problems for me. My desire to essentially numb myself and succeed in morphing my body into what I looked towards as being perfect led me to employ a new project; one that allowed me to not only feel perfect, but even look it. I tirelessly tried to make myself as small as possible so as to not be forced to deal with the reality of my life, only to find that the voids within me could never be filled with the disgusting satisfaction and pride I felt when I perfectly executed starving myself and running myself to the ground. I still existed, and the pain persisted. I destroyed my body for a peace of mind I never got, and that has been one of the most difficult things to come to terms with. I’m still working on rewiring my brain to think differently about myself and my body and to teach myself that the way I am is absolutely enough for me and the world I live in. But man, it sure is a hard pill to swallow. Trying to devalue everything I’ve been taught (or have self-taught) to value is a long and strenuous process. But we try, and we continue on. Always.

Needless to say, my notion of what is perfect and the innate perfectionism that has poisoned my life & psyche has proven to create more complications, destruction, and hardships than any version of “success” of “happiness” I thought it could. If you take anything away from this blog post, just know this: you are not alive and present on this earth to be perfect. Nor will you be. And there is nothing better than knowing the truth of that. If hating yourself could have made you happy, you would have gotten there already. Try something different. And if you cannot beat the fear binding you to the perfectionism that brings you the comfort and security you don’t think you’ll ever find elsewhere, then just do it scared. I believe in you, and you are so brave. True strength and bravery come from knowing our own faults, limitations, and character flaws, yet never letting go of the knowledge that each of these is what makes us uniquely us and gives us the grace to be who and how we are in this world. Worth, value, and dignity are not derivatives of a socially constructed vision of what ought to be considered perfect. What a gift it is to not be perfect.

 

 

Farewell, 2018.

2018 has been quite the year. Looking back on all that I have gone through in the course of these twelve months, all the waves of change that have taken rise in my life, all of the unforgettable experiences I was lucky enough to create, and all of the memories and moments (both wondrous and painful) I have endured, it is truly hard to put into words. This year has been nothing like I anticipated and, at times, nothing like I ever wanted. But still, 2018 has been everything I needed. This year was equally as eye-opening as destructive, as insightful as disillusioned, as productive as damaging, and as fulfilling as completely heartbreaking. All of this is to say that 2018, whether I wanted it to be or not, has been nothing short of transformative. And for that, I am now so very thankful.

I remember heading into the new year at this time one year ago and thinking to myself, “There’s no way 2018 is going to be as tough as 2017. It can only go up from here.” I naively believed that the pain, loss, and grief I felt throughout 2017 after losing my mom would forever go unparalleled. For me, 2017 was the epitome of heartbreak and agony, and a real manifestation of the “rock bottom” that is so commonly referred to. Heading into 2018, I worked tirelessly trying to convince myself that the coming year just HAD TO be better. I mean, how much harder could things get, right? And while I think I was right to believe that 2018 would be better, this was only true in very selective ways. While 2017 caused me the greatest heartbreak of my life (in more ways than one) and left me weakened on my knees time and time again in some ways, 2018 also did so, just in very different ways. I was so very wrong to assume that the hardest obstacles had already been planted before me in 2017 and that every hardship that came my way would be less heavy and less impossible to overcome. If 2018 has taught me anything, it’s that the pain, heartache, brokenness, and adversities that present themselves in our lives will never disappear. They will never cease to arrive just when you thought you were on a good track and felt as if your life was properly ordered, like a ticking time-bomb. Hard times will ALWAYS come; but, that also means that they will always GO. And the constant fluidity and nuance of joy and heartbreak, of pleasure and pain, is what makes life on this earth so beautiful and worthwhile. This year truly has taught me more than I can say. But most of all, I’ve come to realize that life’s hardships and things that try us don’t wait for us to be ready or well-equipped enough to face and conquer them. They never will. The universe can see you get knocked on your knees and do everything it can to keep you there. But despite it all, no matter how seemingly impossible it appears, love can always be found. And with love comes hope, light, and joy. That is what gets me through, and that is what I will carry with me forever.

2018 granted me a lot of amazing opportunities, the capacity to experience things I never thought I would, brought wonderful people into my life, and was unforgettable in so many ways. I laughed until I couldn’t breathe, cried both sad and happy tears, looked deep inside myself and pushed for my own growth in ways that terrified me, and overcame (and am still working on overcoming) some obstacles I never, ever thought I would encounter. This year, much like the last, did cause me a lot of pain. That I cannot deny. But I am also appreciative of the journey I have been on and continue to be on, for it has made me who I am. Somewhere along the way, I learned that it is completely okay to lean on those who love & surround you when the going gets tough. Doing so does NOT make you weak (as I had come to believe). If anything, seeking help, asking for support, and looking for solace in any and every place is a symbol of true strength. We are not meant to face the pain and burdens of this world alone, and relying on those who you can depend on when you need it is nothing short of what humankind is made to do— to lift up, encourage, and love one another. 2017 made me believe that there are some storms I cannot weather in this life, but 2018 taught me that every storm will eventually die away. I have learned that I have all that I need inside of me to embrace these hardships with strength and grace, and I am so much more than what happens to me. I’ve grown to believe and understand that I have the power to create what I want to see in this world, and I can make things happen; life does not just happen to me. I am the storm.

You know, everyone always says that the end of the year is the most essential and valuable time to reflect. It’s a time to look back on the past twelve months of our lives, look deep within ourselves, the relationships we’ve worked so hard to create, forgive those that have been lost, re-discover what values we wish to hold onto, and set intentions for the next twelve months of our lives. And while I do appreciate that that’s what dominates discussions at the very end of each year because I think reflection paired with just introspection is one of the most needful elements of human life, I also think the extraordinary emphasis and insistence that people put on the coming of the new year is filled with immense loads of pressure, something I find even unbearable at times. I try my very hardest to avoid all the talk about what huge life changes, behavioral tendencies, toxic diet talk, and unhealthy provocations of what the start of a new year means to society and our culture, because I find it extremely damaging and anxiety-inducing. To me, the start of a new year is something to be celebrated, not feared. Simply because the last digit of the year changes does not signify that humongous life changes are to be made, nor should it be a signal to force unwanted or unhealthy change in your life, no matter what benefits it may reap. The pressure that comes with the new year is something I have always felt inside of me— it’s a constant push to be better, to change yourself and your ways, to be thinner, to achieve more, to gain more, to succeed. While all of these “goals” may be warranted, I think that for most people, these are merely things we are told to desire. We should want to earn more money, to have more things, to look our best, and to constantly be “better.” But what I think most people lose sight of is what “better” truly means to them. Each year I fear getting lost in all of the pressure-filled and anxiety-driven talk of the new year and failing to recognize what I truly need, desire, and deserve for myself and my own values. That’s why I reflect often, daily even. Not just on New Year’s Eve. Because I think it’s important to consistently reinforce my goals, intentions, relationships, and what I want to see manifest in my life. For that I am responsible. I have learned that keeping myself in check and on track in this way helps me to stay centered and focused on what I believe to be important, and I am grateful for the gift of introspection and reflection, both of self and of the world.

While making lengthy resolutions isn’t my ideal way to enter the new year because putting impossible standards and pressure on myself NEVER goes well for me, I do like to head into every new year with a few words that I would like to see manifested in one way or another throughout the new year. For 2019, the words I have chosen are “be” and “know,” a constant reminder to be who I am meant to be in this world, acting and presenting myself as such, and knowing my value, worth, and power as a human being. I wish you all the very same. There’s so much beauty to be felt, seen, and embraced in this world, if only we have the courage and capacity to find it.

With all of that being said, I am SO READY to leave 2018 behind me. There are many things I want to, and definitely will be, discussing in great detail about this year in the future, because I learned countless lessons that deserve some level of discussion, especially if there’s a chance they can aid someone else on their journey. But for now, I am kissing 2018 goodbye, and leaving it behind me. This door is closing, and I couldn’t be happier. New opportunities, experiences, lots of big changes, and more growth are bound to come my way in 2019, and I couldn’t be more excited or anticipatory. I’ve never felt more ready to embrace the coming change in my life, and I am thrilled to enter this new year with everything I could ever need to continue on. I am equipped with all of the love I could ever ask for from all of the wonderful friends and family that surround me, an undying hope for the future, and an inner recognition and understanding that I am wise, strong, and worthy enough to overcome.

Here’s to 2019. I am so ready for you. Bring it.

 

“So What’s Your Next Step?” : My Post-College Plans!

Ooof. Just writing that title gave me a bit of anxiety. It’s so interesting how the connotation of “the future” has changed over time. I used to hear people ask, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?”, “What are your next steps?”, or “How are you going to reach that goal?” and instantly feel a spark of inspiration and exhilaration within me, surely deriving from my naive ambition and pure zest for life and all I thought I could offer the world. I’ve always been one to constantly plan and orient my life around strict schedules, never really allowing myself time to question what it is I’m meant to do or be. I think that in itself is the key- I’ve always planned out my life based on what I think I’m SUPPOSED to do, not necessarily what is best or most desirable for me. From a very young age, I knew what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be, and identified and laid out paths that would enable me to reach the high (and undeniably ambitious) goals I constantly set for myself. I remember being as young as 7 years old telling my mom that I wanted to be a lawyer, which I think was in part inspired by my dad’s extensive experience and history working with the law, as well as a deep love I have for American History and the development of our political system across time. I had a great admiration for the inner workings of the government, the law, and policymaking procedures from a very young age (though I could not have known that’s what I was interested in), and I found myself becoming fixated on constitutional law in particular, not because that’s what my heart was most inclined to, but because that’s what the world told me was acceptable and would bring me the most success. I know that my “dream” to study law and be a renowned attorney throughout the world was a self-imposed goal I set for myself and the course of my life at a very young age. But now that I am older (and hopefully wiser haha), I can also recognize that that deeply held ambition and plan I had for my life was, in great part, a result of my environment and what others fed to me.

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It wasn’t until the past few yeas of my life upon entering and being in college that I was forced to truly defend, actively pursue, and believe in these “dreams” that I had given so much power to in dictating the course of my life that I realized how difficult it was to do so. It shouldn’t be nearly impossible to defend your dreams, or at least have a list of reasons as to why they’re worth dreaming about…right? I remember the exact moment in my first year of college in which my thought process about my life began to switch and I began to question why it was that I was so incredibly dedicated to this life goal I had held onto for so long. I remember beginning to ask myself whether my desire to continue on this path I had created for myself was because I truly desired it and knew that studying law would bring me the greatest sense of fulfillment, or whether I had begun to treat my life as nothing more than the pursuit of a faraway prophecy, one that I had no particular passion or deliberateness in moving towards. That is, I began to wonder if my dream of studying politics, attending law school, and becoming a lawyer was grounded by any intentionality of my own accord. And the answer, not to anyone’s surprise based on the course of this story, was no.

My “dream” of attending law school and being an attorney was not an ambition of mine that encompassed great amounts of my heart and mind, and I began to understand how much I was lacking in terms of meaningful manifestations. My dream of going to law school was not founded on what I now deem necessary to achieve goals I set for myself— passion, relentless drive, heart, determination, and intentionality. Rather, it was undergirded by this immense obligation I felt to do something great. To be something wonderful. For as long as I can remember, I have always pushed myself to set the most difficult goals, have the most outrageous ambitions, and even forced myself to embark on the most strenuous and burdensome paths possible, just to say I could do it. There has always been a part of me that needed to be the absolute best, and the knowledge that I never would be was what kept me going. The perfectionism I adopted at a very young age has had overwhelming effects on the way I have lived my life and how I have grown to become who I am (which can be an entirely separate blog), and I am well aware of just how much my desire to be “perfect” has paradoxically set me back over the years, not to mention how much physical and psychological harm it has produced.

As I look back, I know there is a definite correlation between this deep desire within me to achieve, strive, and attain perfection and my goal of being a lawyer, because I remember the descriptions and characteristics I used to attach to attorneys and those who successfully practice law. I remember categorizing them as highly intelligent (even comparable to doctors), very well-paid, prestigiously educated, regal, stoic, respectable, and a reflection of what it truly means to be a professional in the working world. I thought of lawyers as perfect (at least intellectually), and THAT is what most drove me to want to be one. I spent so much time idolizing what I thought I needed to be in order to fit, replicate, and be a model of what perfection can be manifested as in the world that I completely neglected my heart and its inclinations. I treated my ambitions and true aspirations I felt within as mere disposable and insubstantial parts of myself, though they were the things I most longed for and were the very most important parts of myself. These past few years have led and allowed me to embark on a long road of introspection and inner reflection, and for that I am so grateful. Without being forced to analyze the way in which I have chosen to organize my life, prioritize my goals and essentially order my soul, I don’t know if I would have found what I am truly passionate about, nor if I would have been courageous enough to choose it over what I had so long perceived to be perfect. That being said, I am so glad that I have found a newfound comfort and confidence in what I really want for my future and in the new goals I have decided to set for myself that are NOT aimed at perfection.

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As I have mentioned previously, I am deeply, deeply interested in American History, the ways in which the law and its execution has changed over time, and the nature of politics in general. While I am aware that my former ambitions were erroneously set on positions and goals that I didn’t necessary desire, I also know that my passion and positive disposition towards politics is not something to be discounted. In this way, I think the ends I was aimed at may have been good and justifiable, but the means by which I went about reaching them were far from correct. My interest and appetite for learning and growing in this realm of academia is something that I’ve found to be unwavering over time, and has even grown exponentially upon entering college and being able to discover ways in which I can further specialize my studies. However, in the same light, I have found that I also have a great love for philosophy, literature, and writing. Actually, this wasn’t a find at all. I knew this literally my entire life, but I progressively forced myself to silence these desires and loves I had for the sake of pursuing what I thought to be necessary and “right.” The past two years in particular have really pushed me to re-acknowledge everything I love and appreciate about philosophy and writing, and I am so lucky that I was able to successfully incorporate them into my studies in a multitude of ways. I have been given the opportunity to learn so much about politics, government, and everything in between. I have also been able to read more Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, and Montaigne than I EVER thought possible, and I have loved every second of analyzing the works of many brilliant thinkers. That being said, I am looking forward to all of the different possibilities that my future may hold, whether they be based on my degree in Political Science or the minors I will have acquired in Philosophy and Spanish. Right now, I am looking at taking at least a semester off and taking a gap before I head to grad school or even think about applying, because 1) I definitely need a mental break and some time off to recenter myself and get my sh*t together, prioritizing my mental and physical health and allowing my heart and spirit to find one another again, and 2) BECAUSE I FREAKING DESERVE IT, OKAY? Hahaha. But really, I’m very much looking forward to having a little bot of a break sometime soon. Directly following graduation, I intend to embark on many travels and see all of Europe with my very best friend, something we’ve been looking forward to for years now. I could not be more excited to venture out, immerse myself in various beautiful cultures completely new to me, and see the world in all of its glory, for I know there is no learning like that which comes from lived experience and opportunity. However, I know that taking a full year off of school would probably drive me insane because I love learning and the academic environment so much, so I will most likely be applying to enter grad school in the Spring of 2020 following all of our amazing European adventures.

In terms of what I will be studying, as of right now I would like to continue on the political and philosophical path and study Political Theory, which I’ve found to be a perfect mixture of the two things I love most. I am looking forward to being able to further examine the ins and out of politics, examine aspects of international relations and offer critiques of regime types. But I am also excited to continue learning more about human nature, the needs of the soul, and examine the deeper questions of the world. From there, I’m completely unsure of where that will lead me. Maybe I’ll end up being a Political Theory professor (something I NEVER considered a possibility for me and would have definitely scoffed at a year ago), a philosopher of some sort, or even a journalist closely following the politics of Washington, D.C. Heck, who knows, maybe I will end up going to law school for the RIGHT reasons someday and I’ll run for Congress! I guess time will tell.

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All this is to say, for the first time in my life, I am not exactly sure what the next year, five years, ten years, or twenty will hold. I never knew in the first place. But for the first time, I am admitting to my inability to tell the future and can honestly say that I am okay with it. I am learning everyday to be okay with the unknown and to not be so fearful of what may come my way or what may even throw me off the set path I have worked so hard to pave for myself. I don’t have my life planned out as of this moment, and I don’t know what the next few years will bring following my undergraduate graduation in May. I have chosen to no longer strictly regiment my life and orient my entire being around schedules, achievements, and goals that cause me to divulge into an unhealthy, perfectionist frenzy aimed at a prophecy that will never be fulfilled. I refuse to let my goals divert my attention away from what I believe to be truly important in this world— life, love, joy, beauty, integrity, family, friends, and hope. The way I now choose to construct my life has these things as the Sun center, and that is what makes every outside goal I set worth achieving. I have found peace in the unpredictability of my life and the outplay of the universe, and I am working on finding it in myself each day. And that is enough. I am enough. Rinse, repeat. Though unexpected, everything has meaning. Significance. A reason.

It’s all intentional. After all, it’s all about intentionality, isn’t it?  (;