During my first degree, as many people do, I usually wrote my essays the night before they were due. A professor once gave me a copy of the book, The Canadian Writer’s Handbook, and instructed me to read Chapter 3 entitled Punctuation in case I wanted to turn my As into A+s. (his words) I thanked him, put the book on my bookshelf and continued to write my A papers. I told myself that the reason I didn’t read the chapter was because last minute As were good enough for me, but really, it went beyond that. If I read the chapter and still couldn’t master perfect punctuation, I would have failed. It was better not to even try. Perfectionism, if not punctuation, at it’s finest.
My second degree is in Education. I won the Gold Medal for Education when I graduated. This meant that I had the highest marks of any student in the faculty. I managed this even though I had been absent for several weeks due to a nervous breakdown (do people still have these?) during my first year. If it ever comes up in conversation, I brush it off by saying “It’s Education. Not a hard degree.” The same goes for any scholarships, awards, accolades I may have received.
I am currently in the process of completing a Master’s degree and the old pattern continues. I tell myself and others that it is only Education, not a difficult subject to study. And I berate myself almost daily for not challenging myself to a real degree or starting earlier in life.
During my Arts degree (Honours English, Dean’s Honour Roll) I was deep within the clutches of an eating disorder. Somehow, although I was too weak to wash my hair (it took too much effort to lift my arms above my head) I managed to walk four blocks to the bus stop each morning and get through my classes with an A average. When I came home, I collapsed on the tiny couch in my apartment and waited for morning to come so I could try again to perfect a day without eating. Today though, I still manage to discount the accomplishment of completing my first degree, the same way I seem to discount most (all?) of my accomplishments. I’ve read studies which indicate a strong connection between perfectionists and eating disorders. To me, this makes complete sense.
Right now as I re-read what I’ve written above, my immediate response is: Stop bragging about your awards. Once in a while I let myself be proud, but sooner or later (usually sooner) I find something else to flagellate myself about. It can be anything really, I’m not picky. When I’m picking on myself, I’m not a perfectionist–any flaw will serve my purpose.
A few days ago, a post of mine was chosen to be highlighted by the WordPress editors. I tell myself that it was a fluke, a chance happening that caused my post to be chosen–the right place at the right time sort of thing. Even though many people (mostly strangers who have no investment in lying to me) have told me that my writing is good, I have a hard time believing it. Because for me, although I am pleased, I can’t help but read over every line of the article and pick through it and find sentences I wish I’d crafted more carefully or better choices of words to have used.
And that brings me to where I am at this moment in time. Over 300 followers. Believing in me. (Or, if not believing, possibly reading what I have written) What can I write that they will enjoy? What can I write that will be good enough? If I can’t reach that (impossible) level of perfection that I am aiming for, I am disappointed with myself, so it’s easier not to start. The other day I was afraid to publish the piece on my grandmother. Why? Because it might not be what people were expecting from me. It might not be good enough. I finally pushed the publish button because my partner told me to publish it or go to bed.
As usual, my partner was right. I started this blog to share my writing, through as many genres and formats and on as many topics as I see fit. It’s pretty random, and that’s okay–I’m pretty random too. And I’d rather think of myself as random than as a perfectionist. Random people have more fun.
P.S. I wrote an earlier post about perfectionism. (P is for Perfectionism) It wasn’t good enough so I’m trying again to perfect perfectionism.