By Peyton Fine
Striving for Imperfection
By PEYTON FINE
Scrolling through Facebook while riding the shuttle from Mather to Maxwell Dworkin, I was struck by a typical Huffington Post article. It was one of those articles about a scientific study that Huffington Post summarized, placed a title on the article, and a friend of mine had liked, so it showed up on my newsfeed. The article was titled, “If you’re a nail-biter, you’re probably a perfectionist.”
“Thank God,” I thought as I was riding this shuttle. If you’ve seen my nails, you know I am a nail-biter through and through. I’ve tried to kick the habit for years thinking the nail-biting was probably contributing to the fragile nerves that come with papers, psets, and projects. According to Huffington, that wasn’t the case, HALLELUJAH!! My nail-biting wasn’t stress. I really just wanted my psets to be perfect despite my putting them off for the night before. Again, Huffington Post had come through to solve my problems.
I went on with my life satisfied that I could continue my disgusting nail-biting habit until one day I found myself like so many other nail-biters biting my nail right as I locked eyes with someone I didn’t want to see me in this state. For me, it was a crush. A crush will make you do crazy things like in this case trying to stop biting your nails for the first time in four years. But, I knew I couldn’t just stop biting my nails cold-turkey. I needed to find and address something deeper than just the habit. So, I thought if I wanted to stop biting my nails, I needed to go to the root of the cause—my perfectionism. Maybe, I needed to accept some imperfection.
As soon as I opened that portal that told me I had been accepted to Harvard, I had expected perfection from this new college experience. I had a picture in my mind of a perfect world in which I would visit Harvard during Visitas, fall in love with my preferred department of study—the economics department, and easily decide to attend Harvard. Well, we know how Visitas turned out for the Class of 2017, and for me, when I finally made it to campus and sat in an econometrics lecture with Jeffrey Miron, I was so bored that I fell asleep. My inner perfectionist started going through all of the things that were wrong with Harvard. By the time I had worked myself up over all of Harvard’s imperfections, I had told my parents that I just couldn’t go to school here and proceeded to bite off most of my nails. Thankfully, my parents convinced me that Harvard must not be all bad, and that I should give it a chance.
And, I did. With my rude awakening to economics, I decided to study engineering and fell asleep less, but quickly ran into more imperfections. Professors who were better at researching than teaching, psets that seemed to always overlap, and final projects that left my mother asking “what had the cat drug in” when I returned home in the fall and spring left my nails in a worse state than when I was deciding whether to come to Harvard. But, while focusing on all of these imperfections, I was missing all of the perfect moments: professors like Evelyn Hu and Chris Lombardo who asked me about my extracurriculars or family before I could ask questions about a pset, psets that gave me pset groups who became lifelong friends, and final projects that made me all warm and fuzzy inside when the circuit turned on when it was supposed to. Every time I focused on the imperfections, I was missing the perfection that was also present.
This all came to a head over the last year. The night before housing day during junior spring, a professor, who taught me two classes at the same time assigned a pset in each of the
two classes, and those two psets added to another pset I had already been given. It was three psets due on housing day all without being able to work on them before Housing Day Eve due to the ever-present midterms before Spring Break. Our pset group gathered in the Lamont media roomanddidnotleaveuntilthesuncameup. Afterfinishingthepsets,Ifellasleeponthetable of Leverett dining hall as housing day merchandise flew around me, and it was the worst of all the Harvard imperfections I had experienced to date. I ended the junior spring and senior fall mostly just ready to begin the next chapter of my life until a few months ago when a friend from that pset group in Lamont asked me if I remembered that night. I said I did and added in a few choice words for the professors who had assigned those psets. My friend had a different outlook. She said she loved that night. It brought us so close together. She said we wouldn’t be friends, and I got to thinking. Without that night that seemed so imperfect, I would not have so many perfections like my friendships with Alex, Janey, Yang, Daniel, Brian, and many others.
Every time I allow ever-present imperfections to bother me and send my eyes straight to mynailstobite,myeyescan’tlookupandseealloftheperfectionthatisaroundme. There’s nothing wrong with striving for perfection, and I don’t know if I ever will stop biting my nails, but I hope all of us don’t fixate on the imperfections so much in our lives moving forward from Harvard. Whatever you do when you see those imperfections in your life, let’s stop and pay a little more attention to the perfections in our life. Maybe it’ll make our fingers look nicer, or cause us not to embarrass ourselves in front of a crush, or maybe it will just make us all a little happier, a little more loving, and a little closer to true perfection.