Get it right.
Right before I dropped out of my first BFA when I was 20, I signed up for a course on existentialism. At the time, I was unable to see the identity crisis rushing towards me; I thought I just needed a break from my theatre studies. On the first day, I sat in the back row and listened to the students in the front row press the professor on how to get an ‘A’ in his class. I wasn’t sure of much then but I knew that trying to get existentialist philosophy right was not the point.
While it was obvious to me that mastering philosophy was a paradoxical pursuit, I couldn't yet objectively see the ways I was reaching for my own forms of contradictory perfection. My desire to get things right was one of the factors that led me to almost commit suicide and eventually leave my first degree. Even after I had sought help and stabilized my mental health, I struggled to let go of a compulsive desire to avoid making mistakes.
The conflict of interest between my hunger to understand and make peace with my flaws and my attachment to perfection made my 20s explosive. I oscillated between extremes, either living into a restrictive regime of my own making or throwing caution to the wind and moving to new countries on a whim. I would spend the entirely of that decade convinced that it was some moral failing on my part that made it difficult for me to get things right.
In truth, the point of life is not to avoid every mistake and to always make the choice that causes the least amount of pain. This is what the patriarchy wants us to believe because it keeps us in line. If we are afraid or even just mildly adverse to questioning what actually makes our lives meaningful, we’re less likely to pose a threat to the power structures that profit off our continued oppression. So, instead we try to get life right in exchange for our humanity.
I am working on a few creative projects at the moment and am constantly reminding myself that getting them right isn’t the point. Nor is perfection what’s driving my desire for financial wellbeing and the inclusion of my body in my work. Of course, I want my projects to be successful but it is also essential that they retain their humanity. Otherwise, I risk creating work that further perpetuates the systems of oppression I am invested in dismantling.
I still have days where I wonder if the work I’m doing matters; if the life I’m living matters. While these ongoing existential crises aren’t as destabilizing as they used to be, they do remind me to pause. They demand that I take a good look at who I’m becoming and what I’m doing so that I stay awake to what’s meaningful. They remind me that more important than perfection, than getting life right, is to live life fully however messy and flawed that process needs to be.
What are you trying to get right that you don’t need to get right?