I can’t do anything right.
I’m 11 years old and it’s 2 a.m. I’m on my fourth notebook for science class, and it’s only the end of September.
I didn’t run out of pages — most of them are empty, in fact — but something about them just isn’t right.
The “S” on the cover of the first notebook looks wrong, the letter too big and the rest slanted upward. The second survived the first week, but I was tired that day and didn’t use the perfect, practiced handwriting I promised myself I would. The diagram I drew in class on the third looked ugly, so I covered it in a neat layer of whiteout. But that covered up the notebook lines and the paint didn’t fully dry. It smudged and now it’s not perfect enough.
It’s 2 a.m., and I’m copying a month’s worth of notes into a new notebook for the third time. I have to get ready for school in five hours, but right now it’s me and book number four. I try not to fall asleep as I mindlessly copy terms I can’t even remember.
There’s an ink stain on my hand the next morning and I sway a little as I stand, but that’s OK. All is right in the world. Me and my perfect notebook, getting ready for school.
I glance over at my desk, where my to-do list reminds me that I have to redo my social studies and math notebooks. It reminds me that I need to get better grades on my next exam, workout and reorganize my room. It tells me that maybe I should buy yet another brand of acne cream. Maybe that’ll fix my skin and make me look better.
I was wrong. Nothing is OK, and the pressure of my mounting to-do list only adds to my exhaustion.
There’s a thick rubber band in the corner of my desk, and I slip it on as I do every morning. What looks like black smudges turn into words when I stretch the rubber band out:
Stop oversharing, smile prettier, stop being a failure.
Constant reminders of who I should be in order to be better, to be perfect.
I can’t do anything right — at least that’s what my perfectionism tells me.
I burned out my sophomore year of high school. I felt like everything I worked so hard for was destroyed, but I was finally able to recognize how badly I was hurt by the expectations I put on myself.
Eight years later, I think I’ve learned an important life lesson.
It’s important to make the distinction between “right” and “perfect.” I can do things right. Perfect is impossible.
You don’t need to be perfect to be worth something. Memories are made when you set yourself free from the little, nitpicky expectations no one but you notices. Lessons are learned when you let yourself make mistakes. Try new things and no longer limit yourself because you’re afraid of failure.
All or nothing doesn’t work when you drive yourself into the ground trying to meet impossible expectations. You’ll be surprised at how far you can go by reaching the “good enough” standard.
You can’t do anything 100% perfectly, and that’s OK.
Jasmin Yeung is an assistant news/features editor and can be reached at email@example.com