I am a perfectionist. Somehow I did not discover this fact until I started school in the beginning of this year, although everyone who knew me seemed amused when it came as such a shock. The first quarter I was in school, I took 20 credits. I got a 4.0, obviously passed everything with flying colors and yet I was still frustrated. Care to guess why? Because I had gotten 100% on every assignment except for one final in which I had missed 5 points. Yes, 5 points. 5 points which I was quite sure I should have gotten, it’s just that I have always been so terrible at remembering which branches of government do what exactly (I swear I love politics, it’s just that exact details always escape me when I need them most on any given subject). Obviously there was no excuse for me to miss the few questions that led me to not receive that perfect score. If you are sitting out there, reading this, thinking that everything I have just written sounds insane, congratulations. You are probably a much more balanced individual than me, at least on this subject. I do understand that those 5 points are not super relevant. I still got my 4.0 and no one will ever look at my transcripts and say “Well, she did pretty well but goodness, why did she miss those couple of questions on that one final she took her very first quarter?” (Also, to make this story even more ridiculous, it was a class I realized by the end of the quarter that I didn’t even have to take for my program)
Since that first quarter, I have begun to realize just how deep this particular rabbit hole goes and, to some extent, why I never realized it before. I had this idea before all of this of what a perfectionist was. I always pictured those super high achievers who freaked out if everything in their life didn’t go exactly right (which, as it turns out, is what I turn into on the flip side). But there is another way to deal with perfectionism. See, until this last year or two, when I suddenly started to make the rather unprecedented decision to start jumping off of metaphorical cliffs and actually do something with my life, I dealt with this with a fairly simple approach – I just did my best to never give myself an opportunity to fail. You would be amazed how easy this is and how many areas of your life it can apply to. Essentially if I didn’t feel I had natural talent at something, I just would refuse to try. Because gaining talent at something takes practice, it takes work and, of course, it takes failure. I could blame mommy and daddy here and I’m sure upbringing has a role. It wasn’t that we were held to high standards so much as that there were no explicit standards. To me it always felt like there was a bar but it was never explained and I could never reach it, so what was the point? Yes, I’m sure that played a part but I’m a big girl and it’s been a number of years since I was under that roof. The honest truth is that I just settled in and gave up.
One of the side effects of this is that I have almost no practical skills. I mean, there are very few people in this world who are simply born amazing cooks or magically knowing how to fix cars or computers or…. I don’t know. Insert something practical here. Those are just useful things I think about sometimes. Of course there are occasional people who are just incredibly naturally gifted in these things but I was never one of them and so I simply never tried. I still remember that when I was in high school I once screwed up macaroni and cheese and hamburgers. I somehow (to the bafflement of my aunt, who was standing there watching me) once managed to screw up microwave fudge. It tasted fine but it had the consistency of wet sand. So when I think of cooking, which is a skill I honestly need to learn at this point in my life for a variety of reasons, my immediate reaction is just “Nope. I can’t do that. Me and a kitchen are bad news. I have screwed up like 3 times and that is too many and means I should not be allowed to do things.” I have occasionally made resolutions to change this and try anyway but I have yet to follow through on them. I will admit this is partly because, as of yet, I do not like cooking. I find it boring, I get distracted (which no doubt contributes to my occasional failures) and there are so many other things to do… but despite all of that, my food situation is getting a bit ridiculous. I am practically 30 and I’ve heard rumors that my body will probably need nutrients or something crazy like that. The long and the short of it is that I need to have food and take better care of myself. I’m training for and heading into high stress work and cooking is one of many skills it might be nice to have for myself.
That’s just one example, really. I mean, just imagine how my life might change if I actually convinced myself that failing wouldn’t end everything. And when you imagine it, let me know how that looks, kay? I’ve been working on imagining it for a couple years now, with limited success. My 4.0 has remained intact. I have managed to resign myself to not getting 100% on every single thing (although it still stings whenever it happens) so I suppose that is progress of a sort, but I still get very stressed if I don’t get an A so it’s a very limited sort.
This week, I am trying a kind-of silly thing but it’s something I literally really haven’t done since high school because I was never any good at it – I’m painting my nails. I painted them a super light pink a few days ago, so you couldn’t really tell where I messed up and that was nice but they looked so pretty and I decided I really do have nice nails and perhaps if I practiced painting them, I might even get better at it. So tonight I am painting them blue. They are not perfect and I’ve had to redo one of them already (and that’s before I’ve even gotten to the right hand…) but hey. Tiny, tiny baby steps? What do you all think?