Less Than Perfect

Throughout most of my life, I considered myself to be a perfectionist. For as long as I can remember, I would do anything and everything I could to be as perfect as possible. My best was never enough, and I was consistently my own worst critic.

Case in point –I remember in first grade, the one time I ever got in trouble at school. We had a point system consisting of star stickers, and when you reached a certain number of “lost stars” you would get a phone call home to discuss bad behavior. One day, I came in late from recess — a complete accident — and I was forced to forfeit a star. I cried my eyes out. And I did get a call home, because the teacher was worried about how hard I took the “lost star”. I was borderline traumatized over the idea that I wasn’t the best student in the class for that single hour. This idea carried over into my teenage years and into my adult life. Whenever anything went wrong I would wonder what was wrong with me. I wanted control over situations to know that I could accomplish perfection.

This has been something very difficult for me to come to terms with. There have been many situations in my life in which I have had no control, but I have done the best I can to try to achieve perfection within them. Any time I failed, I blamed myself. A lot of areas in my life have been affected by this need to control everything, ranging from my personal relationships to my school work to my jobs.

I graduated college in 2009, in one of the worst economies on record for new graduates. I had a degree in English with a concentration in journalism, one of the industries hit hardest by the ailing economy. After my internship with CBS News, in which my supervisor reviewed me as the “best intern we have ever had,” CBS laid off practically the entire department. I was unemployed with thousands of 20-somethings, and forced to move back home and tirelessly send out hundreds of resumes only to hear no response.

This experience was difficult. I wanted answers, and I wanted reasons why I was getting so few , interviews and barely any offers. I had worked hard, I went to a good school, and I had great experiences for a 22-year-old recent graduate. I blamed myself for being unable to find employment. I started to believe I wasn’t good enough for certain life paths (for lack of a better term) and I let a lot of areas of my life suffer because of this feeling of unfulfilled need to be perfect.

Now that I have been living in DC for approximately six months, I realize how skewed my thinking was for most of my life. It is true that no one is perfect. But it is true that anyone can reach success and do great things. I owe much of this realization to my time of uncertainty after college. After only knowing school for 17 years of my life, it was hard to figure out who I am and what I want to be. To be honest, I’m still not sure I know. But I’m ok with that.

I start graduate school this week, and I’m really looking forward to — as I look to put it — investing in my future. I know there’s no guarantees that this is the right path for me, or that I will be able to find a job in six years when I have completed my Phd. And of course the “investment in my future” (better known to most of the world as debt) isn’t ideal. But I’m realizing that I like the unknown, and the idea that I have so much time to try new things, even if that includes failing a few times along the way. Life isn’t about being perfect.

Shortly before I graduated from school, my brother showed me this clip on YouTube. It’s Steve Jobs’, the CEO of Apple, commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005. I still think about it today, and if you have time, it is truly worth watching. Enjoy!

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~ by Caitlin on January 23, 2011.

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