By Mohamed Ramy
Student, Amherst College
Ever since I can remember, I have strived to be the perfect man: I remember learning more than two foreign languages to be erudite, studying chess and learning the guitar to impress others, and understanding what people want to hear and saying it. A destructive penchant, it has often made me feel simply unworthy and left me unfulfilled, as I felt ingenuine and hollow. Oddly, only recently have I given the concept of perfection its deserved reflection.
I grew up in an Egyptian household that cared about appearances and first impressions. While my mother stressed internal values and character education, my good-natured father drew satisfaction from others’ praise and always felt the need to insist on me appearing perfect. As contrasting characters, my parents lead different yet parallel lives, thankfully balancing one another. Since my father seemed to be perfect, I grew up emulating him, yet I always felt awful inside, as now I realize I had been lying to myself throughout about who I want to be. Nevertheless, I then thought perfection attainable and came to define it as living up to societal expectations.
Markedly, in our younger years, we come to think of societal expectations as honorable pursuits. And so, I attempted to perfect my soccer kicks, Egyptian sense of humor, level of fitness, general gait, and manner of speaking. What is more, I generally looked for character traits extolled by Egyptian society and tried my best to embody them: I tried to be loyal, proud, thoughtful, masculine, and religious. Notably, it was not that I wanted to fit in or had the urge to conform – I simply wanted to be the perfect Egyptian and to be celebrated by my family. I had learned from my father to never accept imperfection as an option – that is until I read Anna Karenina. It cannot be denied that Tolstoy is a transcendent giant with an undaunted imagination. In reading about Anna’s doomed character, I felt Tolstoy to be attacking me, telling me to change. Suddenly, he proclaimed, “If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.” Until this day, those words ring truth. When I finished the book, I felt something die in me: the need to become someone I was not. All my mistaken dreams of flawless scenarios were shattered, and reality took its toll.
Throughout my life, the concept of perfection had affected my notion of who “the right one” is, making me critical and meticulous, and in the process has made me have unrealistic expectations about love. As an intern for “The QUESTion Project,” a non-profit endeavor that focuses on finding purpose and meaning whilst empowering one to be fearless and conscious, I arduously contemplated the courage to love after watching Bronx students talk about its importance. Transfixed by the idea of love, the notion of “the right one,” and emotional transcendence from a young age, I had a lot to think about. I remembered Viktor E. Frankl’s declaration in Man’s Search for Meaning: “Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man may aspire…a man who has nothing in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.” Yet, after the internship, I had to admit that I myself am imperfect: I am often talkative, critical and analytical, culturally confused, and regularly stubborn. Although my imperfections agitate me, they have shaped who I have become. Oddly, the greatest act of courage is accepting imperfection – is accepting the fact that to be human is to err.
Whenever I think of how to be content with imperfection, I think about how each day I may strive to be a better person. I believe obsessing over perfection hampers our ability to develop, as then we may never be ourselves. In order to invest in things that will make us happy, we must dedicate time to knowing our imperfect selves. Only then will we be liberated and achieve greatness. Undoubtedly, every society’s unique expectations sometimes force us to conform to some certain standard; however, it takes great resolve to choose to acknowledge a weakness and harness it to become a strength – it takes audacity to see flaws and accept their existence. As a perfectionist, I have lived in the future for many years so that the present has eluded me, and I regret it, for sometimes I forget to appreciate the fact that I am alive. Indeed, chasing perfection has been a self-destructive, never-ending marathon that I intend to quit. Appreciate the journey and know that you will always be a work in progress. It only gets better from there.