When I first met all of you and told you about my shiny new year, I waxed somewhat poetical about the allure of pristine pages and other things that haven’t been ruined yet. I say “yet” because it is the deeply held belief of My Brain that most of the pristine pages and other things that I venture to make my mark on will, sooner or later, be ruined.
I am, and always have been, something of a perfectionist. Not a regular perfectionist, of the type that likes everything to be “just so”, but an obsessive and self-sabotaging one. I didn’t just beat myself up if I got less than an “A” — I considered it a failing grade. That’s right folks, I literally considered a “B+” to be a failure. You see, I know that I’m capable of getting an “A+” (I’ve done it before) and therefore if I don’t get at least an “A-” I have effed up royal in my own mind.
As a general rule, I cannot bear the thought of doing poorly at something — not because I think I’m fantastic, but because I think I’m significantly less than fantastic, and I’m terrified that everyone else will find out. And if the wonderful people in my life who tell me I’m fantastic find out that I’m not, they might decide they don’t want to be in my life anymore. One of the results of this fear is that I would rather hand something in late and get a “C” for the lateness of my otherwise “A” paper than hand in a “B” paper on time. Hell, I would rather hand in nothing and get zero, and act like I didn’t care, than hand in a paper that I knew was only worth a “B”. In fact, I’ve actually done that on more than one occasion. I’ve failed (real failed, not just in my twisted perception) a class because of it.
Perfectionism and low self esteem are an inconvenient combination for people who hope to actually accomplish things from time to time.
There are many possible reasons for my perfectionism. One theory is that I was born on the cusp of Virgo and Libra, which means I am intrinsically not only a perfectionist, but an indecisive perfectionist, which is even worse (since I sometimes can’t figure out exactly what “perfect” might mean in a given situation, and consequently don’t even know what to strive for). I don’t personally believe in astrology for reasons that Tim Minchin and Weird Al have both expressed eloquently (or at least comically), but the fact that my issues were not foisted upon everyone who shares my date of birth by the relative positions of stars and planets does not change what I am.
If you prefer to look to nurture, rather than nature, I have provided a small but helpful selection of my foundational influences.
So, whether its origins are genetic, astrological, or the result of My Brain internalizing the sanctions and praise of outside sources, perfectionism is something that I struggle with. I am, however, slowly winning the battle. I’m making friends with white-out. I’m hanging my artwork on my walls even though I’ve always wished that I’d done something or other differently, or with more skill. I’m forcing myself (despite much kicking and screaming from My Brain) to let go a little bit.
It’s really hard. This is probably my fifteenth time editing this post, and here I am adding a new paragraph, when it’s set to publish tomorrow (and has been for four weeks). I can’t seem to leave it alone, because it could always be better. That’s why I’m making myself publish something every week — I’m forcing myself to label things as “finished” so that I can move on to the next thing.
And in the process I’m learning to accept that maybe, sometimes, good enough is good enough.