Every time I hear Anna Quindlen’s name my ears perk up and I’ve never been disappointed. One of the things I’ve struggled with is the idea of perfection and trying to attain it, Marc Maron talked about this feeling on his podcast and he described it as being so paralyzed by trying to attain perfection that it almost looks and feels like depression or an anxiety attack. On the other side of that coin is Anna Quindlen’s 1999 Commencement Speech to Mt. Holyoke’s Class of 1999. I’m including an excerpt here, but if you haven’t read it before I strongly suggest you check it out.
Trying to be perfect may be sort of inevitable for people like us, who are smart and ambitious and interested in the world and in its good opinion. But at one level it’s too hard, and at another, it’s too cheap and easy. Because it really requires you mainly to read the zeitgeist of wherever and whenever you happen to be, and to assume the masks necessary to be the best of whatever the zeitgeist dictates or requires. Those requirements shapeshift, sure, but when you’re clever you can read them and do the imitation required.
But nothing important, or meaningful, or beautiful, or interesting, or great ever came out of imitations. The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.
This is more difficult, because there is no zeitgeist to read, no template to follow, no mask to wear. Set aside what your friends expect, what your parents demand, what your acquaintances require. Set aside the messages this culture sends, through its advertising, its entertainment, its disdain and its disapproval, about how you should behave.
To put it another way: