There’s this scene, in one of those medical dramas on television that invariably involves very little medicine, and it’s always stuck in the back of my mind.
“You are too good to let this ruin you”, a suave doctor says to a young registrar struggling to cope with her somewhat dysfunctional personal life.
“Too good to let this ruin you.”
So, what, if she were a little less skilled in the operating theatre then the prospect of her life spiralling out of control would cease to matter? Or would it just matter a little less to those watching it happen; would they walk on by because, hey, she’s not that good.
Not good enough.
“You are too good to let this ruin you”
Categorising those around us into different sub-sections based on skills is nothing new. It’s kind of ingrained into our society from our very first day at school. I am bad at maths, but maybe ‘too good’ at English so that I always tried to second guess the question.
Now, I’m not a perfectionist, at least not in the pure sense of the word. Somewhat of an overachiever? Perhaps. But a perfectionist? Nope. Do I dream of being perfect? Sure, the motivational quotes littered in notebooks and stabbed haphazardly onto my pin board strike a chord.
“Create your own story” they chime, “Dream It, Believe It, Achieve It.”
Perfectionism seems pretty – it’s pretty word, isn’t it? Perfect. Short, snappy but dainty, conjuring up images of debutantes in Downton Abbey-esque balls. Nowadays, 21st century perfect takes on a different form, whether that’s the perfect grades or the perfect smoothie bowl on Instagram… We see perfect as being something attainable to us all. There’s no reason why we can’t be too good, why we can’t be perfect.
Except, just like how we’re always told what we’re good at, having an excess of any one quality isn’t exactly seen as desirable either. We say “oh, she’s too clever for her own good” or “that Eddie Redmayne – he’s a bit too pretty for a guy, isn’t he?”
So when does being too much of any one thing turn into its opposite? When does being perfect stop being too good and become about not being good enough?
it’s pretty word, isn’t it? Perfect.
In the February of upper sixth, my first and second choice universities rejected me within days of one another (and no, neither were Oxbridge). My mother, for whom food is an expression of love, tried to cheer me up. How about we got take out that evening? Pizza or Chinese? Cake or ice cream?
Neither, I snapped, as she dropped me off at work, “I don’t want to be fat and a failure.”
When I returned home later that day, she’d obeyed my request. Bags of seeds and dried fruit, with one solitary chocolate bar, were propped on my bed, but it’s not the lacklustre sunflower seeds I remember. A note, written in too-big writing, words gradually shrinking in size as she’d run out of space on the page, was hidden beneath a bag of sugar-free granola.
“You can’t change the direction of the wind, but you can adjust your sails to reach your destination.”
it’s not the lacklustre sunflower seeds I remember
We all know girls who are too good. They seem super-glued to hard backed library chairs; they peel themselves off to sleep, caffeinate and smile. They are the good girls.
The good girls are so good at following the rules that when a diversion sign appears, the good girls are too engrossed in what they’ve always done to be perfect that any diversion is ruinous. They don’t know how to adjust their sails because, until that moment, they’ve prided themselves on not needing to. On being too good for any storms to come their way.
They don’t know how to adjust their sails because they’ve prided themselves on not needing to.
Tyra, in the television show Friday Night Lights, is not a good girl. With her bleached blonde hair, short skirts and messy family life, the show portrays her – at least on the surface – as flawed. In her college essay, Tyra says she used to be afraid of wanting anything, because she figured wanting would lead to trying, and trying would lead to failure.
She goes on to talk about everything she wants in life. She wants to get invited to the White House, to go to Europe on a business trip, to lose and get over it, to be the best she can be. Tyra’s dreams aren’t that different from any of mine, or any of yours. We all want things, don’t we? Maybe it’s not going to Europe; maybe it’s travelling around India, or buying your own house on your dream road. But we all want things.
Except Tyra says she doesn’t necessarily think she’s going to get all these things. She might not – but she just wants the possibility of getting them.
Tyra recognised what so many of us don’t. Being perfect isn’t about being ‘too good’, or achieving all these amazing things. Sometimes what is good isn’t the prettiest thing or the saintly action. Sometimes what is really perfect, isn’t really that good.
‘Perfect’ is an absolute term. If you’re perfect, then you’ve arrived. You don’t need to improve or change anything and yet you can’t move… you can’t grow as a person because any risk, any one wrong step, could render you imperfect again. So you remain static. Not consciously thinking or improving, just doing.
Being perfect removes possibility. I don’t know about you, but if being perfect means you can never fail, can never make the catastrophic mistakes that make your heart drop to the ground, can never fail an exam then binge-eat pizza and watch crappy movies with your friends, can never lose yourself in what you shouldn’t do and learn to adjust your sails back in the right direction… then I don’t want it.
I’d rather have the possibility of being good enough than be too good to lose.