A few months ago I spent some time confiding with a friend about some insecurities I was feeling in a new relationship. His initial response was, “Everybody’s fucked up, everybody’s got problems, man.” This is true, of course. While the severity of our individual psychosocial ailments vary, we’re reminded of another cliché that’s only so trite because it’s so true: nobody’s perfect.
This doesn’t stop the modern world’s attempts to sell us on the idea of perfection, however. We’re told, “Your waistline can always be smaller, your skin always clearer or tanner, your sexual organs could always perform better, your children could be smarter, your teeth could be whiter, your work could be more productive, your lawn could be greener.” Tempting as it is to spend the rest of the book pointing out what advertising seems to consider our various inadequacies, I will control myself. We can only (usually) be convinced to buy that which we don’t already have, and so mass culture makes a point of making most individuals, even exemplary ones, feel inadequate in some way or another most of the time.
The big question here to ask is, “What is inadequacy?” By what standard are you being judged? What is ‘perfect’ and why is it such a revered concept? Is it rooted in religious ideology, the desire to reflect an omnipotent all-knowing God? Or maybe it’s political, some sort of power-play? Our fears of inadequacy are often rooted in very real things; it is sensible to say that a human being should know how to take care of themselves physically, sexually and emotionally, and to work actively on patching up rough spots if they’re impeding on one’s day-to-day sense of self-worth and contentment. But modern culture blows those feelings of insecurity out of proportion to the point where, if everyone is indoctrinated with notions of objective perfection, and judges themselves against this conception of Ideal Man and Ideal Woman, as dictated by advertising, one will never be happy. It’s simply impossible.
So, clearly, striving for perfection is not the way to go, since any notion of perfection, even beauty, is contrived and rooted in some sort of objectification that ends up forcing us to dehumanize ourselves (and buy lots of stuff). Insecurity is profitable, and so it continues. And while I’m not the first to suggest a mindset of constant self-improvement (reading quality books, exercising, eating decently, sleeping properly, drinking lots of water—simple stuff) I am also going to go out on a limb and say this: exploit your own insecurities and perceived flaws.
What’s a flaw, in this sense? In the cultural realm, a personal ‘flaw’ is anything that prevents you from most effectively serving the interests of those who want something from you. If you’re too socially anxious and introverted to work an office job, but great at painting, you’re perceived as an outsider, one who must pave one’s own way instead of be exploited in a cubicle for the sake of personal comfort and family security. If you’re a steel worker who spends all day lifting metal and arrives home absolutely exhausted with barely enough money to feed your kids, chances are you’re not going to feel like hitting the books. And so you will be taught to feel like a working class dolt, an unsophisticated brute.
No matter what path you take, you will find yourself confronted with your perceived flaws. The key is not to balk at them, repress them or try to pretend they don’t exist, but instead to embrace them and work towards overcoming them in a constructive way. These perceived flaws, these nuances of your personality, those little things that keep you from being an easily-classifiable automaton, are your greatest gifts. They deter you from doing some things, sure, but they force you to step outside of what society wants from you and participate in your own fate. You can choose to let your individuality bog you down, or you can let it liberate you. But nothing worth doing is easy work.