Growing up, perfection had always seemed within reach. I had a record of 12 years of perfect attendance, never once falling so ill and missing a day of school. I graduated with a perfect transcript, perfect GPA and a host of perfect standardized test scores. I don’t write this to brag — and at Yale, this is hardly brag-worthy — but to contrast my high school experience with my experience at Yale. It’s not that I have been drastically underperforming at Yale, but nothing about my life here can be characterized as perfect anymore. Stress and sleep deprivation have eroded my health and there have been more times than not when a semester of hard work resulted in a good grade, but not a great one. Not good enough in my mind.
I grew up attending a Chinese-American church where striving for academic success was — wrongly — often on par with devotion to God. For example, the youth group sometimes played math “games” together on Friday nights. And I have spent the last three and a half years at Yale grappling with how God has radically shifted my perspective on perfection. Specifically, I wonder often what it means to see perfection within reach — whether that be academic or otherwise — but never manage to attain it. This is especially hard when there are people at Yale — or magical unicorns as I like to call them — who seem to excel in every category. Maybe that means academic perfection, having the perfect body, the perfect relationship, the perfect balance — you fill in the blank.
As I studied the Bible more at Yale, I began to seriously grapple with the dissonance between what I claimed to believe about Christ’s teachings and my own standards of perfection. I am slowly admitting to myself that much of my desire for perfection is rooted in fear. In fact, that is an understatement. I am deeply and paralyzingly afraid of not being good enough. On days when I’m honest with myself, I admit this fear has driven much of what I do. I am afraid that I peaked in high school, that no one will ever like me and that I will disappoint my family. Mostly, I am afraid of mediocrity at Yale and of monotonous, cubicle-filled days beyond Yale during which I will have no significant impact on the world. Every job rejection, romantic rejection and bad grade only confirms my fears of not being good enough. And I thought that if I were just perhaps a little bit smarter, prettier, more powerful, more articulate, more charismatic, more perfect, I could surely avoid that fate.
I found framing for these concerns in my faith. Jesus teaches me that I have already been made perfect in God’s eyes, not through my own effort but through being united with Christ. When God looks at me, he does not see my own shortcomings, but rather perfection. This is not a guarantee of academic or career success. Rather, it is a shift in an understanding of what perfection is. Because if perfection is the guarantee that my life will be okay, then I am doing something worthwhile.
At Yale, I am a member of Yale Students for Christ, a group dedicated to following Jesus for a lifetime and living it out together at Yale. With my friends, I have found community and a place to reflect on life’s bigger questions. For the next few weeks, we’re trying to engage the campus in a broader conversation of what it means to be 100 percent at Yale. For me, that means recognizing my incompleteness and remembering my perfection all the same.
My strivings for perfect grades, the perfect body and the perfect relationship will never end. But also, these strivings will always hang tenuously, dependent on the whims of an imperfect professor, an imperfect romantic partner or biological processes that universally follow the second law of thermodynamics. The only fulfillment of perfection comes from the one who himself is perfect. In Jesus, I have found both perfection that I did not deserve and also rest from unceasing anxiety and a fear that I did not earn. He asks unequivocally for my heart, for me to live my life not driven by a fear of failure but rather by an assurance that he has and will always be by my side, directing my life to love him and love others.
Lucy Wang is a senior in Morse College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .