Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith 2014
University of Notre Dame,
Class of 2016
I really hate the word “perfect.” Perhaps it is because I see it as an unattainable goal, or perhaps because I let that goal complicate so many years of my life. (As a disclaimer, this is not meant to be a Gretchen Wieners apology from Mean Girls. I am trying to tell you I’m perfect and popular and I’m sorry you’re all jealous. If I do come across that way, I would definitely not deserve to be caught if I did a trust fall with all the girls in my class.)
I grew up with my best friends from kindergarten on. We were a bunch of goofballs and weird-o’s, not caring how we looked, and being told in eighth grade that we were “too immature to be pretty”. We didn’t mind; we were happy and innocent. We had fun and we had each other.
But when it came time for high school, I decided I wanted to be something more. I wanted to be liked by everyone, have a lot of friends, and have that high school experience that everyone had told me would be the best four years of my life. Well, I got to high school and decided to create myself anew. I thought,
“I should start wearing makeup and caring about my hair…Perfect.”
“I’ll work hard in school to make my parents proud…Number one in the class!…Perfect.”
“I should start having big parties at my house.
Maybe people will like me for having a nice house and cool parents…Perfect.”
“The coolest people in class like to drink…I guess I will too…Perfect.”
“John said he loves me! I’ll just keeping doing whatever he wants so I can be cool and have a boyfriend…Perfect?”
“Oh and let’s not forget my faith. I’ll just go to Mass even though I barely pay attention…Perfect”.
I had done it. I attempted to perfect everything about myself so that I could have friends and be well liked. I spent every day of high school maintaining an image of perfection – I was the girl who had everything together. The perfect life, perfect family, perfect friends, perfect grades, and perfect faith. But towards the end of high school, when my closest friends said, “Oh Erin, you wouldn’t understand because your life is so perfect,” why did I cringe?
Hearing the word perfect was like a sour note in a song. My life was not perfect. Insecurity, the feeling of inadequacy, difficulties finding and believing in God, broken relationships with my sister, drinking myself to the point of blacking out, failed attempts at relationships, mistaking love for lust, losing part of myself I promised I would never lose – that’s how I saw my life. I didn’t actually believe I was perfect, but apparently everyone else did. I put on an appearance of having it all together and wore a smile to block out how I really felt. If I appeared perfectly put together, then people would like me, right? It was not until the end of my senior year of high school that I realized how destructive and hurtful my outward appearance had become.
I went on Kairos retreat in the spring of my senior year. I was really excited because I had heard so many great stories of new friendships, forgiveness, and grace. My small group in Kairos was filled with members of my class I had never really gotten to know. During the retreat, I dropped the “perfect” act, and simply talked with people. I didn’t care about appearances for once, and it felt amazing!
One night, we talked about judgment. A boy named Joey told me that he had never met me, but he had always hated me. I seemed like the classic mean girl and a stuck up snob. There was no way I could be a nice person with the appearance I worked so hard to uphold. Joey’s revelation shocked me. And I was more shocked to realize Joey was not the only person who felt this way. People I barely knew found me irritating. My closest friends had watched me become superficial and I could feel our friendship dwindling. Even my younger sister who I had considered my best friend could not stand me. She felt overshadowed and resented who I had become.
But it was then that I came to realize that the person Joey hated was not who I was at all. I had worked so hard to be someone everyone would like; yet this very person was someone no one could stand. Outside I appeared put-together, but inside I was falling apart. By covering all my insecurities and dissatisfaction with myself with an image of “the perfect girl,” I lost myself. I damaged relationships and prevented the fostering of new ones. I had wasted the “best years of my life” trying so hard to be someone everyone would like, while all along I drove them all to despise me. If I had just let people see the broken girl, sad girl, insecure girl, and imperfect girl, I would have learned what true relationship, friendship, and faith meant.
In the last months of my senior year, I tried as hard as I could to repair the broken relationships I had created. I gave up the perfect act, and just tried to be Erin. Erin who likes Chemistry, figure skates, sings off key with her sister, quotes Spongebob too much, makes a fool of herself with her friends, and who has made far beyond her share of mistakes. Erin who desires God’s love and relationships that reflect it, but has fallen short of those many times. Erin who is so, so, so far from perfect, and who can finally learn to accept it.
Perhaps I am like Cady Heron, although I did not write in a burn book or try to destroy the reputation of Regina George. But like Cady, I tried to become someone I wasn’t. I tried to make friends and get guys to like me by completely forgetting who I was. I gave up the amazing friends who were there from the beginning to achieve popularity and mold myself into a distorted image of perfection.
Maybe I don’t hate the word “perfect;” I just hate the way I used it. If you think about it, we are all perfect because we are each images of God. Every little thing about myself I didn’t like and tried to cover up, was already perfect because God made me that way. Hiding myself got me nowhere. Accepting myself is still a work in progress, but I think it’s the way to go. For the Chemistry nerds, the star students, the students who don’t really think school is their thing, the leaders, the followers, the introverts, the extroverts, the Gretchen Wieners, the Cady Herons, and the people who still don’t know who they are, I hope this can be a story of self-acceptance, self-appreciation, and self-love. Perfection is everywhere in this world and in all of us. We just need to have our eyes open to find it and our hearts open to accept it.