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Opinion: Culture pushes generation to desire perfection

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I had a hard time falling asleep Saturday night.

As I lay in bed, I kept reciting various cost concepts for an accounting quiz I had to take Sunday. I convinced myself that any score earned below an A- would prove my deficiency in math. 

The numbers and definitions, though, wove between the idiosyncrasies of the plot of “Gone Girl.” I have been listening to someone else read it to me via audiobook, because I feel the need to be up-to-date and informed on what is considered excellent, modern literature, but I have found it increasingly difficult to dedicate two-fifths of my senses and 85 percent of my brain power to holding a book, reading it and comprehending it. 

It wasn’t just my mind that was restless, though. My hands were also sleepy and sore from the day’s constant movement. 

I spent 75 percent of the day sewing — a hobby I picked up partially for therapeutic comfort and partially to boast a new skill — and the other 25 percent trying to remember the fingerings to Mozart’s “Flute Concerto No. 1 in G major.”  I took the song to district contest my sophomore year of high school and received the highest rating. My mental assessment almost five years later was intended to see if I maintained the finesse and technique I once had on the flute so I could convince myself that I did not yet have to mourn the loss of a talent. 

At some point between my transition from high school to college, I dedicated myself to being a Renaissance woman. It wasn’t enough for me to be good at one thing anymore; instead, I needed to be an accomplished writer, mathematician, linguist, student, musician and seamstress while also being well-read, well-informed and well-liked.

It’s a lovely thing to maintain lifelong curiosity and a desire to always be a student. For me, though, it is a burden of contrived inadequacy when I find my mind and abilities won’t flex a certain way.

It was keeping me up at night. Why do I feel the need to be good at everything?

I settle a lot of my anxiety by using Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. By finding the origin of my apprehension, I can analyze my instinctive responses that led me to the condition I am in today. From there, I can point out where I have faltered and fix accordingly to make a whole new me. 

So what external factor made me discontented with my natural clout and credentials, filling the holes of my inabilities with a sense of mediocrity? 

Perhaps it was one of the opening scenes in “Girls” that made me feel the need to up my ante. In the HBO show’s first episode of the first season, Hannah Horvath — played by Lena Dunham — is fired from her unpaid internship in New York, although a co-intern of hers was hired onto the publishing company’s staff.

Her boss’ reasoning?

“Joy-Lynn knows Photoshop.”

I know how to use Photoshop, though, so I’m already a step ahead of Hannah.

Perhaps it’s watching the Disney princesses. Growing up, my favorite movies featured these triple-threat women who could sing, dance, hunt, sew, paint, swim, talk to animals, fight the Huns and somehow still be beautiful at the same time. 

But then again, an inability to decipher fact from fiction by the age of 21 shows that not only do you have feelings of insufficiency, you’ve also lost touch with reality.

Perhaps it’s the product of who I look up to: John Cameron Mitchell wrote one of my favorite stories of all time — “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”  — as well as acted and sang in the starring, transgender role in the 2001 movie. He can play both a man and a woman masterfully. Tavi Gevinson was a fashion icon before she was a teenager, developed and managed a fashion magazine before she turned 18 and has acted on Broadway and took the cover of New York Magazine before 21. Beyoncé is Beyoncé. These people can do everything.

However, it is more or so wishful thinking to derive my incessant need to be good at everything from pop culture. After all, mostly everything in pop culture is a trend, and a trend, by definition, is temporary. Perhaps my anxiety will pass.

The more I pondered, though, the more I realized it is not pop culture that is pushing me and my generation to maintain perfection in every single possible skill. 

It is culture. 

It is me having to check off all my skills on online job applications and see everything else — the unchecked options — that I am unable to do. 

It is me having to write essays to potential employers explaining how I’ve used all my time and knowledge up until this moment to prepare for this internship or career. 

It is me — already stereotyped as an “entitled millennial” — to explain to a hiring manager why I am more entitled for a position than my peers. 

It is me having to size up my friends’ and colleagues’ abilities against mine to figure out why I am a better candidate.

If I don’t know how to do everything, I might be worth nothing. 

2 comments

  1. #whitesuburbangirlproblems

  2. Normally when I read an article the minute I see the name Beyonce I stop reading because then I know the rest will be ridiculous!!!! When my daughter wrote an article for Seventeen Mag years ago I ripped it up because it was whiney and boring. I demanded she rewrite like a “real” teenager….the editor loved it and published it (her buckeye alum sis took the great pic)!!! My favorite line to this day is when she wrote “As my mom pulled up to my school for the Arts her headlights seemed to say you’re gonna get it now. I forgot I was potty trained!!!” hahahaha

    I agree with the above poster this article sounds like a spoiled suburban brat!!!

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