By Briana Haguewood
At some point, I’m willing to bet you’ve been told before to ‘do your best.’ The mantra can be helpful: to reassure mistakes, i.e. “You did your best,” to combat perfectionism to the point of anxiety, to alter actionable outcomes in areas you do not excel in, love or understand. I do not doubt the utility of the phrase in a world where diverse skill sets are exalted amidst increasing pressure to keep busy and multi-task.
But how do we quantify what this ‘best’ truly means?
Its use is so subjective, particularly when adapted to meet the wants and needs of so many different people. Yet it would seem that presuming that anything had been done to its ‘best’ degree would contradict the very intent behind associating such an immeasurable word with any action: It’s continually just a bit farther off. In theory, this eternally unreachable distance away should be the same for everyone.
“We’ve done our best.” What if by quantifying the word ‘best,’ we inhibit the possibility of ‘best’ meaning even more? This ‘more’, we reserve for ‘perfection,’ a construct we’re told is impractical. Dismissable, even. ‘Do your best’ is held by so many people to be fundamental. Yet ‘strive for perfection?’ We rarely hear it.
We fear perfect, its existential weight on us. Like death, all missed experiences, and unavoidable failure, we place a cap on the extent to which we consider its possibilities and permeation. For this reason, we’ve extracted it from our daily vocabulary. But both words, in their truest sense, are unattainable. Truthfully, a synonym for ‘best’ is ‘perfect’.
So for many, we’re coasting day to day, or maybe we’re saving some hopes and experiences for later. Maybe we just don’t know where to start. Or scariest of all, maybe we don’t even know it’s possible: having everything we want and more. Expanding even further than our kid selves could have dreamed.
We each have the potential to be the utmost, most fulfilled version of ourselves. We have the often overlooked capability of molding our lives: elements of our personalities, our experiences (how we spend our time and money), the words we think and speak, the people we tie ourselves to. We forget this ability, the power of choice and the perpetual pursuit of potential, our infinite freedom. To me, potential is perfect. And its recognition in the architecture of our lives, consistently underrated.
They say Leonardo da Vinci never gave the Mona Lisa to the person who commissioned it. He never believed it finished; couldn’t find it flawless. It’s even been said that the great artist expressed regret, “never having completed a single work”. And now? The fruit of his never-satisfied labor: “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world.” An enduring definition of pure beauty.
What if this sense of unfulfillment, the gnawing dissatisfaction we tend to hate, isn’t inherently bad? What if what’s more harmful to us as human beings is forgetting that there’s always more, that perfection does exist, even if it can’t be attained? Forgetting that the pursuit of things beyond what we know is the only way we truly learn.
Because here’s the thing. We’re all failing. Stumbling, grasping, occasionally succeeding (and then forgetting we ever did). We fail to see how far we’ve come, and we neglect to envision how far we might go. And perfection? It feels so out of reach. Some days more than others. We know perfection is impossible; we’ve been told this is the truth. And so we just dismiss it.
It could be that our quick rejection of perfection stems from frustrations with our daily failures, and not the more transcendent pursuit of perfection over the course of our lives. But what if ‘perfect’ and ‘imperfections’ are not incompatible? This is the problem with perfection: when we assign it to things outside of our control.
Truth is, we don’t have power over the things that happen to us. Which people change us. This is the beautiful piece of living, the things to which the pursuit of perfection would be counterproductive. Life has potentiality to be perfect in all of its messy, chaotic imperfection. As Tony Hillerman said, “From where we stand the rain seems random. If we could stand somewhere else, we would see the order in it.” And Steve Jobs affirms, you can really only “connect the dots looking backwards.”
And I know perfection, perfect things exist. I’m willing to bet you know this, too. Certain experiences, people and knowledge have sparked the understanding that a life of equilibrium means tears and laughter, organization and chaos, love and heartbreak, all maneuvering against a backdrop of a higher state of being: happiness, peace, perfection.
Once you’ve felt it, you can never go back. Once your own personal vision of perfection has been realized, you can never settle or let it go. Your heart will break, each and every time you fall out of this overarching state. You simply can’t accept the common belief that this sort of feeling isn’t real, because you’ve known it firsthand. You know that there are ways of being, living and loving and lighting up inside, with sparks and from the core. Brimming. Feeling. Feeling joy, and potential: the ultimate form of perfection. Maybe potential isn’t real. I believe that it is. I believe that potential is real and its recognition of paramount importance.
One hundred percent pure, authentic, stumbling through, flying high, ordinary, extraordinary, imperfect perfection does exist. And I don’t know what it is for you, what this perfect world for you might look like. But only glimpse it once and you’ll know it forever. It’s strange in that way, this realization that perfection is real and earth-shattering even as it’s never fully graspable. You don’t feel it until you find yourself right in the midst of it.
It could be so many things. Words. Wit. Incredible humans. Sunshine. Bed. Flower markets. Friendship. When you find it, tuck it in and hold it tight. It will be your sustainment, your personal paradise, your hopeful view of the world, your grip on the immensity of potential, your light.
Image: Alex Wong