June 2, 2013

In which I acknowledge my perfectionism

Mid despair, I saw this marvelous sliver of a rainbow to knock me out of my circular thoughts.

I have often befriended folks who are better at (enter X skill here) than I, because I am attracted to their drive and talent.  I am inspired by them on some level.  Being surrounded by inspiration means that I'm motivated to keep reaching, working on my own skills, which, in turn, usually leads to a sense of progress, self-sufficiency, productivity, and/or satisfaction.  In my personal "pursuit of happiness" it is the journey of productivity that generally equals happiness for me.

There are some similarities across some of my closest friends who share the trait of doing their particular skill at a world class level.  For one, they achieved their mastery through dedication, practice, and perseverance.  These qualities were often fomented by their perfectionist natures, as were their abilities to hone their practice beyond Really Really Freaking Good (a level infrequently achieved) to Precisely Fucking Amazing (only a few in the world at a time attain this level of excellence).  Unfortunately, a side effect of being a perfectionist seems to be almost constant dissatisfaction.  And for this reason, my most incredibly talented friends often seem to be some of the most angsty, disquieted people.  (Of course, because they're often in the public eye, and because they're perfectionists, they've also crafted a marvelous facade of pleasantness and buoyancy through which they interact with most of the world.)

The stock I come from are A)workaholics, and B)pretty well satisfied with Good Enough.  Generally, that means we're productive, and pretty happy.  "Never let perfect be the enemy of good," could be one of the Pohl mottos.  We do a lot of good work, but rarely achieve or strive for perfection.  This lack of reaching one's potential sort of irked me.  At some point, I thought to myself, "What if I look up to my friends and strive for their amazing levels of skill, but am not hard on myself...Will I achieve near perfectionist levels of accomplishment and avoid the malaise?"  It made sense in my head.  So that's what I've been working on for several years, in several aspects of my life.

I read about people who said things like, "If, on a scale from 1-10, various aspects of your life rank as a bunch of 7's, most people would think, 'Awesome! I'm doing pretty good! Why change anything?'  But think how much better it'd be if you had a bunch of 10s!"  I drunk the Kool-Aid, so to speak, and have changed many things in my life in order to achieve a higher level satisfaction.  My goal was/is to apply myself to all my endeavors with discipline and discernment, while being kind to myself, and it feels great!

...Until it doesn't.  The thought occurred to me a couple months ago during a conversation with a friend, when she suggested that I might actually be a perfectionist despite my careful avoidance attempts.  I banished the notion because I didn't really want to entertain the thought that I could be vulnerable to the negative aspects of perfectionism, and I also didn't think I had really achieved anything worthy of perfectionist levels of skill.  My friend raised her eyebrows at me as if I had just made her point.  By discounting my own skills, I had, in one sense, achieved the central step in perfectionism;  to never think anything I do is particularly noteworthy.  I hadn't really thought about it that way--for me, most of my pleasure is gained from the journey rather than the destination, so it makes sense that the resulting object/performance/etc is more or less irrelevant, and serves merely as a marker for how to steer my personal evolution for the next iteration.  However, what most people see and judge you by is the resulting object/performance/etc...but that's a different tangent.

Today, I experienced several hours where my personal satisfaction with The Journey was fractured (I was frustrated in a dance class heavy in choreography--my nemesis), and rather than brushing it aside as Just One-A-Dem Days, and laughing off my frustration, which is what I usually do, I felt unable to stem the rushing tide that rose and drowned me in a sea of negative self talk.  Hours after the class, I was still wallowing in a general dispair and dissatisfaction with my life.

Oh no!  This is exactly what I wanted to avoid!

I think most of my life I've been able to put my brain power into my schoolwork, and take a break from my thoughts by working with my body in dance.  Now that I'm no longer in school, I have more brainpower to devote to dance, costuming, etc.  (I have seen improvements due to this fact.) Today,  I figured out why I never liked choreography--it's a mental exercise as well as a physical one.  I always sought dance as my escape from mental gymnastics!  I liked that it was a physical and intuitive practice with only light forays into mental effort.

So...what, one frustrating example of applying myself and I become immutably forlorn, a sad victim of perfectionism?  Doubly so because the thing that usually brings me happiness is what is causing this despondency?  Ugh, please, no.

Probably the answer is: Keep applying myself, but commit to less productivity.  Commit myself to time off doing nothing.  Become comfortable with doing nothing because it's no good to do, do, do, and then feel poorly about it.  If happiness is dependent on doing, rather than simply being, then I've missed the point.  So I suppose I'm admitting I'm a perfectionist, because admission of a problem is the first step in letting go.

Hah, easier said than done.