“Effortless Perfection”

From Harvard Magazine:

PerfectThis past winter, a class of ’73 graduate asked me whether students still spend hours lingering over meals. He recalled his Harvard as heady and carefree, a place for reading great books and whiling away days in conversation. He had been saddened by an article in this magazine that chronicled the over-programmed lives of Harvard undergraduates today; among other alarums, it had mourned the death of the two-hour lunch. I looked up the piece (“Nonstop” ) and likewise found it upsetting. It painted Harvard undergraduates as so over-scheduled, they barely shower or sleep, let alone linger over lunch. But I knew it was not entirely accurate. At the very least, the article did not accurately reflect my Harvard experience. One of the greatest delights of my two years here has been dawdling in dining halls, listening, talking, and laughing with friends. I now realize the article bothered me in the same way I’m bothered by people who talk too much. I see in their annoying behavior a shade of something I fear I also do. Likewise, reading about Harvard’s “superstars” who “do it all” reminded me of a role I’d once tried to fill, now consciously refused, feared falling back into, and also was terrified of abandoning. I arrived at Harvard as a successful student who never slacked off. I liked to think my life well-balanced—I played sports, kept close friends, spent time with my family, and even slept. But as I outwardly checked off markers of a good, happy life, inside, I was all turmoil. That “carefree” lifestyle was a daily struggle, a purposeful act. I was terrified of “not doing everything right.” Schedule, schoolwork, social life, family, fitness, eating, clothes, even demeanor: everything had to be just so. Everyone believed I was happy-go-lucky (except maybe my parents, lone witnesses of biweekly meltdowns), and I was largely happy. But the harder I tried to be perfect, the more my perfectionism became torture.

Of course, in a sense it worked out. Affectation of effortless perfection got me into Harvard.

More here.