I have always been a perfectionist.
I prided myself on my reputation for perfection throughout high school. I cautiously selected each of my words and avoided emotional outbursts. I strove to embody diligence, modesty, grace and any other marks of an untroubled, polished character. I silently poured myself into my studies, and my strict work ethic carried me to UC Berkeley.
Yet over the course of the past four years, I have been forced to confront the source of my perfectionism in order to overcome its controlling effects.
My pursuit of perfection is intimately intertwined with fear. I am afraid of the parts of myself I cannot fathom, the multiplicity of contradictions I embody. I am afraid of the cataclysmic consequences of authentically asserting myself. Do I dare step into the world? I shrink into myself, hiding behind the still silence of perfection. I swallow my vibrant, beating, unwelcome heart; I sit with the bitterness of uncertainty, shame, longing. I do not dare.
With every bit of self-knowledge I cultivated, I learned that I will never be perfect. I am too passionate, too radical, too baffled. I am too brown, too curvy, too bushy. Perhaps I was not built for this world. (Or, the bolder mantra: perhaps this world was not built for me.)
I learned to speak across my contradictions. I wrote pages and pages of poems, publishing them across platforms, giving language to my experiences as a woman, as a feminist and as an Armenian. I performed in inventive, daring productions alongside the other members of my beloved theater company, the Golden, reacquainting myself with the comfort with which I catapulted across the stage as a child. In the proudest moment of my undergraduate career, I stood behind a podium and bore witness to the power of the unapologetic female Armenian voice, in front of a crowd of hundreds.
I trained myself to balance my trembling heart on my tongue, to clench it firmly between my teeth. In my most brazen moments of self-expression, I learned the sweetest lesson: authenticity is powerful. The deepest sources of my shame, my most fervent wishes for change or for answers, are the parts of me that would resonate most deeply with others. Connection does not flourish into mutual understanding where smooth edges meet. It thrives when we courageously assert what is most difficult to say.
Yet some of my most cherished experiences of connection during my time at UC Berkeley feel perfect. Bursting into dance alongside my castmates after each Golden production when somebody knowingly blasts “Dancing Queen” from the wings. Sprinting down a hillside with a friend shouting the words to our favorite songs, unperturbed by curious onlookers sharing the hiking trail. Skidding across the wooden floorboards of a cramped apartment with my roommate, catching ourselves breathless splayed across my mattress. The less gleeful moments: sobbing onto a familiar shoulder to the comforting refrain of, “It’s all right. I’m here. You’re okay.” The heartbreaking conversations — and knowing exactly who to call after these conversations. The best things to emerge from my time at UC Berkeley are a direct product of the choice to be wholly vulnerable, to cast aside the cloak of fear, even when I know the nakedness of exposure may destroy me. Hoping, reaching, falling, finding. Perfectly imperfect.
My final semester at UC Berkeley ironically epitomizes my journey to accept the imperfect. This semester has been far from perfect and ridden with several painful disappointments, among them my hasty, abrupt farewell to the city I have come to consider my home. My departure from UC Berkeley felt less like an ending and more like an interruption, and I have spent much of the past few months dwelling over the meaning of reconciliation.
I do not have a perfect ending for this column, one that can neatly wrap up my UC Berkeley experience or craft the closure I do not feel. So for this ending, I return to somewhere in the middle, to a memory that always brings a smile to my face and encapsulates the kind of fearlessness I wish to embody beyond graduation.
July 14, 2019. I am strolling through the park with a friend, when she begins to talk about a recent insight. I cannot listen or reflect as I normally would, for my heartbeat rings in my ears and my vision blurs. This friend has an uncanny ability to read my thoughts, and she’s somehow done it again, responding to a deep-seated fear of mine before I’ve even had the chance to articulate it.
I realized, she said, that we can choose to do what makes us happy. That we need not treat life as a game. That the control rests within us.
I launch into the rant that has circulated in my brain for weeks, about how it is safer to treat life as a game, to protect your dreams from the world rather than subject them to the unpredictability of reality.
Lillian, is there something you are trying to tell me?
Heart trembling on tongue, I shatter the still silence of perfection, admitting aloud for the first time what I had never dared to say. Laughter, tears, and we sprint through the grass, basking in sunshine and the freedom of authenticity.
I have abandoned my pursuit of perfection, and in its place, I am embracing courage: the courage to trust myself, to fight on my own behalf and to participate fully in the world.
Lillian Avedian joined The Daily Californian in fall 2018 as a Weekender staffer. She is graduating with bachelor’s degrees in peace and conflict studies and in Armenian language and literature.