For most University students, I know the summer in between classes marks a departure from our youthful days spent nursing wounded animals back to health just in time for big karate matches against the rich team to save the town, getting the girl and teaching the world about the hazards of unchecked greed and squandered love.
Instead, we busy ourselves with various jobs and internships, beginning our slow dance with that she-devil known as the real world, listening to her sweet nothings about uncooperative Excel spreadsheets as she sinks her claws deeper into our flesh at the rate of commuter traffic — all while she gobbles up graduating seniors like Amanda Bynes does crazy pills.
We can’t escape the fact that we are all aboard this one-way public transportation destined for the real world and the only stops planned are for equipment failure. Thus, having a total of one summer and two weeks of internship experience under my belt, and being held back a year, I wanted to share the scariest, most pant-leg-soiling facet of real-world life I’ve encountered yet: our complete obsession with perfection — and the dread of failure it instills in us.
We live in a world consumed with conformity, and when any notion of perceived failure knocks at our doorstep we cringe in fear, quickly closing the blinds as we mutter under our breath about the neighborhood’s loss of character.
To accommodate this fear we saturate our lives with external mediums of support. Self-help books routinely top bestseller lists, and even a cursory perusal of the Internet yields just as much degradation of human intimacy as it yields lists compiled to guarantee a better you. We crave change regardless of if it’s truly needed, quickly adding a problem to the 99 we already got in order to accommodate any proposed solution that seems able to mitigate our dread of failure.
Yet are we truly so fundamentally flawed as to necessitate such constant assistance? Do we really need such an abundance of knowledge advocating the “Five Best Ways to Commit Genocide on Stomach Fat”?
I think not — instead we are more than capable individuals who have simply become terrified of experimentation and potential failure. As a society we can’t accept ourselves, and are thus always searching for the next update, software or tidbit of wisdom guaranteed to finally add that extra thing we’ve managed to live without for our entire tenure as organisms, yet somehow necessitate immediately.
This obsession is both self-perpetuating and compounding — it’s in our unbridled pursuit of perfection that we continually render ourselves imperfect, always searching for problems to fix and inhibiting true self-realization.
Our foundational ideology touts that it’s not your fault you haven’t written the next great American novel, created that successful startup or realized your dream of seeing how many nights in a row you can order the late night special milkshake before throwing it up only a few hours later — you just didn’t have the right tools. In this validation we accommodate our imperfections, ignoring reality and regulating the blame elsewhere so that we may continue our day satisfied yet unchanged and still just as naïve.
This standard simplifies our dreams to finite quips, further enhancing our self-dissatisfaction and enabling our self-help addiction like a heroin-addicted fat kid locked in a heroin-dealing candy shop. Ultimately, if you read enough factoids or books promising personal nirvana, you start to unconsciously believe that nirvana is truly achieved through such means.
In solving this dilemma, I won’t pretend to know that The Cure is anything other than a band, and that the only Answer I know is a phenomenal basketball player ruined by ego. I also won’t lampoon you, faithful reader (Hi Mom), with the irony of a self-help article detailing the fallacies of a self-help addicted society. What I will say is that the most introspective moments I’ve had in life have been after colossal failures. Times when I’ve acted without thinking or regard for expectations, left completely leveled and with no choice but to rebuild my Cheeto-encrusted self, Lego piece by piece.
This summer, remember that the entire purpose of falling is to learn how we individually get back up. For only then will we rise up, capable of truly defending Gotham — or maybe just doing that thing with the milkshake.
Ben Gloger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.