One of the good things about learning to live in another language is the experience of being immunised against perfectionism. Even if your grammar level is quite good, there will always be something that reveals you as a non-native speaker: the sense of humour, the use of colloquial expressions, or the accent. In any case, your expectations of perfection in using the new language will be, sooner or later, dissatisfied.
It will be years before you stop trying to speak perfectly only to discover that around you, the native speakers, do not give any importance to the use of the subjunctive, adverbs of manner, the present perfect progressive, or even the pronunciation that you have tried so long to imitate. But not all has been lost.
Because you have mastered the mysteries of that language, and you have made it yours, but above all, because you have learned that no matter how hard you try, the perfection you seek does not exist.
Isn’t that a lesson that we should all learn over and over again?
Because the desire for perfection can kill us, the idea that those around us expect us to be well-spoken, slim, muscular, brilliant students, seductive women, sensual men, good parents, and so on; perfection is an impossible burden to bear. Even when social media is loaded with images of people looking happy in their perfect lives, something tells us that that is impossible. The appearance of success is not success, and the appearance of happiness is not happiness, but often the opposite. However, the problem is not outside but in us, who are paying attention to those images that call for perfection.
Why then do we force ourselves to be perfect? Because we believe that success is achieved with hard work, with a lot of effort and tears. This is how we have been taught. It may be true, but deep down, the point is that all that effort seems to be heading in the wrong direction. Why? Because instead of being better for ourselves, we pretend to be better to please others.
This is how we end up dieting to be slim and please our acquaintances, or we pretend to be smart to attract attention to ourselves. We dress in fashion to feel part of the trendy group. But come on, you know what this is all about: it’s not about what you think about yourself but about what you think others think about you.
Recognising yourself as imperfect, making mistakes, and allowing yourself to be corrected by others are possibilities for learning. Improving, after all, is a matter where we are alone with ourselves. So go on, like Samuel Beckett said: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
(c) Photography by Sebastián Silva. https://la-periferia-interior.tumblr.com/