Age: 17, Grade: 12
School Name: Hunter College High School, New York, NY
Educator: Kasumi Parker
Category: Personal Essay & Memoir
Whispers of Perfectionism
1 – For myself
My mother slapped me. “Who ask you be genius?” she shouted. “Only ask you be your best. For you sake.” (136)
I’d like my room to be spotless. Everything on my desk ordered in the perfect arrangement, with a stack of looseleaf on the left and my mug filled with pens, pencils, and a slowly increasing collection of hole puncher circles that I’ve been creating. I’d like to have a neat filing system to organize my notes for when my binders and folders get too big. I’d like to be able to have everything the way I want it to, to be “best anything,” but no matter how hard I try to push myself, there’s always something that I could do better. Why didn’t you finish your homework faster? Why haven’t you gone to sleep yet, despite not having done anything for the past hour? Why can’t you just be your best?
2 – For my friends
Three days after watching The Ed Sullivan Show, my mother told me what my schedule would be for piano lessons and piano practice. (136)
Instead of worrying about the major assignments that are looming over my 3rd quarter grade, I open up Overwatch on my computer, and invite some friends to queue for a game with me. Once we get into a game, I decide to play my favorite hero, Zenyatta.
“Hey, uhh, could we have more tanks? We can win easily that way,” I interrupt as my friends are joking around in our voice chat before the game begins.
“Relax, Jackie. We’re not queuing for Competitive Mode, just playing casually,” one of my friends reply.
I know we’re just playing for fun, but the thought of not playing to win irritates me more and more throughout the game, especially because we aren’t doing too well with our 5 DPS and 1 support heroes, a far cry from the two tanks, two DPS, and two supports, the way the game should be played.
“Why do you never heal me? I can’t win the game for us if I don’t get healing, can I?” one of my friends asks me, a tinge of annoyance in his voice.
“I’m respawning soon, maybe I could actually heal if I didn’t die every 20 seconds,” I shoot back. “Why don’t you protect me and stay near me if you want to be healed?”
“Ok, fine,” he concedes, switching to a hero more suited to guarding me. “But I play DPS next game.”
The game is close, but we narrowly lose in the end. The next game, he picks DPS as soon as the game loads. And the next. And the next. After the end of the ninth or tenth loss (I’ve lost count), I decide to call it a night and stop playing.
I lean back in my chair, irritated by how apparently, people don’t want to win. I don’t get it. Even if this is just a casual game, why aren’t they trying their best? I don’t care if all of them want to play DPS heroes, because if they had just listened to me and decided to play different roles, we would all be happy because we had won. Instead though, no one listened to my input, and now no one is satisfied because of our losses.
3 – For my sister
“Not the best. Because you not trying.” (136)
The sound of voices arguing cuts through my music as I’m at my desk doing my work. My interest is piqued by the noise, so I take off my headphones and walk into the living room, where I see my sister sitting in front of a computer screen as my mom angrily lectures her.
“Angelina, explain this to me.” I can see the fury in my mother’s eyes when she jabs her finger at the box that says Math: C – 76.3%. “It says here that you missed 7 out of 20 homework assignments.”
“I don’t know,” my sister replies as she apathetically browses her phone, trying to ignore her grades. “I must have lost it or forgotten to hand it in.”
“You forgot to hand in your homework 8 times? Do you know what percentage of your homework you missed?”
“35 percent,” Angelina says without stopping to calculate.
“So you can do math, it’s just that you choose not to!”
“No, I jus-”
“Mom’s right,” I interject. “Maybe you could do well in school if you actually exerted yourself and tried to get good grades. I put my time into studying and doing well academically, and it’s so annoying hearing you babble on with your friends while playing Roblox for 3 hours every day. Do you think you’ll actually accomplish anything doing that? Just stop being lazy and do your work!”
My sister doesn’t respond, stunned at the outburst from her normally quiet and reserved brother. I don’t blame her. It must be shocking to be told that you’re never going to amount to anything, even if you know that you can easily change that. Maybe I should’ve realized that, though, before I spoke so harshly, because I don’t think my message got through to her.
She probably thinks that I expect her to get higher grades than me, a full column of A+’s on her report card. But that’s far from the truth. In fact, I’d be worried at how much effort and time she’d be putting into school. All I want though, is that she just tries her best, and even if she doesn’t do that much better, I’ll still be proud.
4 – For the future
After a while I usually counted only one, maybe two bellows at most. At last she was beginning to give up hope. (135)
Sometimes things don’t always turn out the way you want them to be. You can’t always get people to do exactly what you want, like Suyuan trying to get her daughter to become a prodigy, or my friends refusing to play what I think is good. Often you can’t even always rely on yourself. Suyuan passes before meeting her long lost daughters, and sometimes I find that I just can’t will myself into doing things. Wanting everything to be right can be annoying because of all the small thoughts that whisper in the back of my mind that make me doubt myself. If I keep on trying to have everything exactly the way I want it to be, I could be in the same situation as Suyuan: dead before I can achieve what I want to do. However, if I use these whispers of perfectionism as motivation, I can hopefully reach my goals, and it doesn’t matter if everything happens exactly how I want it to or not.