Ena Starmer-Jones talks about the drive towards perfection so many of us feel; not just in terms of our appearance but in every aspect of our lives. With New Years fast approaching and resolutions already being made, this is also a good moment to reflect on what we are asking of ourselves and why we are asking it. Is being a perfectionist always healthy, and are there other ways we could frame self improvement?
Every time some kind of transition presents itself to me, I feel an urge not to let it pass without achieving some form of transformation. During my first semester abroad in Russia, picking cat hairs out of my food whilst negotiating with my host about her ban on me using the shower (a negotiation that was unfortunately unsuccessful) , I clung onto the fact that, once back in the UK, I would ‘sort my life out’. I would meditate daily; I would write hard about what mattered to me; I would alter my diet and cut out refined sugar; I would become stronger, leaner, fitter, better at Russian.
It is unlikely to surprise anyone that, collectively, I have not been successful. And yet, somehow, a few of these things are in the process of being achieved: right now I sit here writing something non-compulsory and unrelated to academics- previously a rare occurrence, as it has always been easier for me to curl up with someone else’s world nestled between the pages of a novel, leaving me free from having to scrutinise my own.
Lately though, I’ve been becoming aware of just how compulsive my drive towards self-improvement actually is. It’s like my progress towards being ‘better’ is never enough: I’m still not healthy enough; I’m definitely not fit enough; I still panic over the smallest of inconsequentialities. It’s prompted me to question why I strive so hard towards this idea of myself that I can never quite step into.
Being a perfectionist is part of it, sure, but I’ve also realised how I have been unconsciously acting upon a belief shaped by remarks made to me when I was younger. You’re so ugly; your hair looks like witch’s hair; you look weird: at the time I flinched at these casual, stinging cuts; now, four years later, I can see just how deep and painful the wounds run. Each is edged with the certainty that love is conditional; tender with the conviction that if I want to be worthy of it, I must strive, strive, strive to become prettier, more confident and more successful, for at any given moment I am not worthy enough.
I am not trying to state that self-improvement has to be toxic. Personal growth is vital and beautiful. And yet right now, I’ve decided to try to let go of resolutions and goals and attempt to simply be, so that I can contemplate how this could be enough, and how I could be enough, even if I don’t quite identify with these two statements yet.
Sophia Bush once wrote in an Instagram caption: “You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress, simultaneously”, and when I read this, I feel hopeful. So many of us scrutinise our shortcomings to an absurd degree, but I hope we can also learn to cultivate an awareness and appreciation for our true, intrinsic value.