Column: Perfection is an unattainable aspiration; We can only try our best

Shot by Rose Nihill. Picture of reporter, Caroline Nihill

Caroline Nihill
Oxford Stories

For a while, I did not define myself as a perfectionist. What even is a perfectionist? Personally, I had defined it as someone who needs everything to be perfect all of the time, always. I was definitely not this person.

I just needed everything to go according to my plan, always.

After many years of grappling, I realized I was a perfectionist. I was in denial, for the most part, the majority of high school. I worked hard and got average grades while doing a long list of extra-curriculars and after-school jobs.

I still remember the long nights I stayed up drilling pre-calculus and chemistry. No matter how hard I worked or how much I memorized, the most I got in either course was a C.

This was enough to convince me I wasn’t a perfectionist. I just needed the subjects I was good at to be better than the best. I needed to memorize my part in the choir to the best of my ability and write the best paper I had given my English teacher.

Schoolwork wasn’t where the need to be amazing stopped. I woke up an hour to two hours early to make my appearance just right. I had uneven skin with acne, so I spent endless time watching makeup videos to perfect my makeup.

Before coming to college, I got lots of advice from people telling me I didn’t need to be the best at everything. This was a new climate, and I needed to adjust. This fell deaf to my ears, and I was determined to do my best.

I was nowhere near a straight-A student throughout grade school, but I needed to do well in my first semester. I needed to be the best version of myself, and I felt like I needed that to happen overnight.

Shot by Rose Nihill. A picture of Caroline Nihill and two of her friends.

Walking into Walmart after I finished finalizing my schedule, I had color-coded my entire backpack and composition books. I had a binder dedicated to study guides, and my makeup routine nailed down to 10 minutes tops.

I was a freshman living an unconventional freshman year of college. I lived off campus with my siblings and took the bus to campus most days.

I realized I wanted to be like every other freshman on campus. I made friends with a girl I met at orientation and the people I met in another class. I downloaded Tinder and went on more dates than I would like to admit. I made the trek to The Levee and some frat houses. I was checking boxes in the college experience rather than simply enjoying the world around me.

I was trying to be a perfect freshman that did everything everyone else does.

Three weeks into the semester and one bad grade later, I realized I needed to reassess my priorities. I started working harder, spending most of my day in the library and only going out on occasional Friday nights. I ended up with better grades than I expected. I convinced myself I needed to do even better.

The beginning of the second semester, I moved on campus so I would be closer to my classes. I recently realized I was doing it again. I decorated my room to the point it was referred to as an “Ikea Show Room.” I wasn’t going out as much, but I was working harder towards being a perfect student.

I was still trying to be perfect at everything.

I still try to do my best, as everyone should in most situations. Perfectionism is not something that can be cured with a good night’s sleep, or a pill, or even meditating hard.

Wanting to be perfect is not really that bad. I and many other college students believe that being amazing at everything is the only thing that matters. Being the best friend, the best girlfriend or boyfriend, the best student, the best child. The list goes on endlessly.

There are a million things to do, and sadly no time to do a lot of them, or sometimes any of them, perfectly.

The fact is, no one person is ever the best at everything. We all try our best for the most part and hope things work out in our favor. There are few moments that we actually realize being on this planet during this time is simply living. I can say this confidently because I spent the majority of high school making sure I was doing everything perfectly.

Once I settled in at Ole Miss, I realized none of it mattered. No one was asking me to be perfect. They were just asking me to try.


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