The need for perfection: A response to social media and unrealistic expectations

Carter Steger, Assistant Editor

Perfection is often viewed in our society as something for which we should strive. Although when we make it a continual point of importance it has the potential to increase anxiety and lessen our enjoyment of the world.  

The truth is that our reality is not perfect, and neither are we. Perfection has a large influence on society in many aspects. Whether it is a hobby, job, or school, there is a notion in everyday life that we should constantly try harder in order to achieve perfection. This leaves people with the impression that with enough effort they will be perfect and in control of every aspect of their lives. 

However, hardships are, for better or worse, a part of life. Some are big, others small, but whatever might be affecting your life is something over which you may have no control. For some, that fact alone can be the most frustrating part—the inability to control when or how something happens. The truth is this: no matter how hard you try to make things perfect, something could and often will still go wrong.  

The easiest way to make sense of this is to simply say that, well, it is just life. While to a degree that is true, sometimes there will be an uncontrollable event. If there was such a way to eliminate any chance of things happening outside of our control, it would seem like a fantastic idea to utilize it. We would not have to worry about things like an unexpected bill, failing a quiz you thought you passed, or falling ill before a big performance. The control would be placed into our hands in a perfect reality, making the effort of trying to make life perfect much more worthwhile. 

 Imagine, for instance, that practicing is no longer fun because you do not make every shot or do not sound like the professional on the recording. For those not in sports or performance, it could look like the upcoming test you have. You lose sleep at night and feel that you could know just a little bit more, despite the fact that you studied for hours every day. For some, you probably do not have to imagine and have already experienced feelings of failure and inadequacy. 

Perfection is a fantastic dream to have, but what of our reality where perfection is enshrined as a sort of ideal that only legends achieve. For many people, the need for perfection is reinforced by social media without ever noticing. Instagram even removed the ability to see the number of likes a post received. Adam Mosseri, an Instagram lead, said the goal was to “make it less of a competition” and “give people more space.” The desire to “beat” others directly reinforces the idea that perfection is achieved by those who have risen far above others. 

Whether it is practicing, studying, or even social media, it is easy to fall into a constant cycle of comparison. It may be cliché, but Theodore Roosevelt’s quote, “Comparison is the thief of all joy,” is extremely relevant. The fact that Instagram made a radical change should be eye opening. Even on social media we are not immune from the constant cycle of comparison. Validating individual levels of perfection by the number of likes one gets can feel like it’s robbing you of something essential about yourself.  

  The cycle can be more subtle than you imagine. Every day I sit at Einstein’s on campus for at least an hour reading. Often, the book is one I’m reading for enjoyment. During this time, I try to stay off my phone and invest in my reading. I do not always succeed and frequently get caught up replying to messages or scrolling away. What should be a small, relaxing task can impact the remainder of the day. It is not the lack of reading that defines my day. Rather, it is the sense of imperfection and failure that I feel when not relaxing perfectly.  

Life would be different if everything could go as planned and how we wanted. It is easy to feel a sense of failure when things do not work out how we wish they would have. Feelings of inadequacy and failure are real and are a part of being human. Looking at where these feelings potentially stem from is also important. This means reflecting on what exactly reinforces that mindset. Take pride in your experiences, choices and most importantly, yourself. Remember that nothing is or must be perfect, and it is perfectly acceptable to find joy in things that seem flawed at first.