Spoiler alert: Nobody is perfect—not me, not your husband or wife, colleague or neighbor; not your crush or your mama (sorry, mom.) And nothing is perfect, either. And that’s quite alright.
The amount of pressure we put on our bodies, especially our Black bodies, is exhausting. And no one is exempt from this way of thinking—from those in the most rural of communities to the most urban; from those practicing mindfulness to those who strive to be the busiest out of their social circles. Our need to push ourselves to an impossible place of perfection drains our joy and the potential for us to truly be happy.
Our need for perfection is killing us—literally. At the start of a study conducted by Andrew Hill and Thomas Curran between 1989 and 2016 on the psychological measure of perfectionism, about nine percent of respondents posted high scores in socially prescribed perfectionism. By the end of the study? It doubled to about 18 percent. Add to this the uptick in social media usage during the pandemic, and the stressors that come with being Black America (“pull yourself up by the bootstraps” “be twice as good”) and you have a recipe for a way of living that is not sustainable.
How do we move away from this? By being more honest with ourselves and each other. When we tell the truth about our hardships, failures and perceived flaws, we open the door for all of us to relax in the fact that none of us are perfect, nor will we ever be. And why should perfection be the goal? In her blog, Tara Brach notes, “This quest for perfection is based on the assumption that we must change ourselves to belong.” We get to belong just by being. When we set this unrealistic ideal for ourselves and others—the perfect Black man/woman/person—we continue to perpetuate this notion of our superhumanness.
There’s also no room for growth. With perfection, there are no questions to posit, no new ways to see the world. The want and need for perfection is another way to limit our ability to see the world in broader, bigger ways.
The goal isn’t perfection. Nor should it be. The real goal is contentment and fulfillment within the love we get to share with ourselves and our community. The goal is for us to find peace in our efforts, and comfort in knowing that we are doing the best that we can with what we have. It’s about the offering of grace. It’s about allowing ourselves to be happy with the results of our work, of our living, because we deserve that much. And even more, being able to offer that same grace, that same level of kindness and consideration to others.
Perfection isn’t the goal. Love is.
Joel Leon is a father, dreamer and story-teller. Follow him @joelleon.
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