Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Confessions of a Perfectionist (or Leaving Well Enough Alone)

This is where perfectionism gets you. Via 
***Warning: This post is rather unflattering. But it is true. Ever since I was a little kid, I have always wanted to be the best at every single thing I have decided to do. I wanted to beat each and every one of my cousins to a pulp when racing in the backyard, our fathers sitting on the rock wall, beers in hand, betting on whose legs were the fastest. To finish my test before all the other kids (even after double-checking it, making sure all the answers were right). Out-cheer all the other girls on the sidelines. Win a coveted scholarship. Read more books than my grad-schooly friends. Know more about .... whatever (you name it) ... than whoever (you name them).

As you can guess, such an endeavor is rather exhausting. And soul-crushing. And counter-productive. Newsflash: It is impossible to be the best at everything. Sadly, it has taken me many years to realize that being perfect was never an option. I've come to realize ... (at least intellectually) ... that striving for anything stinking of perfection results in stasis. The woman is perfected. Her dead // Body wears the smile of accomplishment ... I tell my students to take risks all the time. To not worry so much about being perfect. Getting the A. Meeting someone else's expectations. I don't think, however, that I live up to my own advice.

Here's the thing. I've begun to ask myself, when is enough ... enough? When will I be able to look at my life and say, "You've achieved enough. You've made some kind of mark. You have fulfilled your quota of goals"? If I answer this question honestly, right now, sitting in this chair, I will honestly say "Never." Which is exhausting. And soul-crushing. And counter-productive. Because when a failure hits, said failure obliterates the surrounding area for a good three months.

Here's another thing. I see in my eldest daughter the same tendencies. The same desire to be the best in her class. To have accrued the most AR points. To dance harder than all of her friends. I know I have instilled this in her. Perhaps I meant to, deep down, thinking that if she achieves more than I ever did, I will have had some purpose in this life (this, friends, is what we call living through our children ... guilty as charged). And I've reached a conundrum. I want her to be the absolute best student, dancer, and person that she can be and to believe that she can achieve anything that she sets her mind to (physically and intellectually), because I don't want her ever to feel like she cannot because of the circumstances under which she was raised (middle-class, small-town, etc. etc.). But I don't want her to be like me. I don't want her to find the idea of failure paralyzing. To fail to recognize that good enough can sometimes be good. I want her to see failure as a healthy part of the human condition; without failure, without challenge, we cannot grow.

Here's one more. I'm running out of steam for my dreams. When is it a good time to throw in the towel and say, "I should really just leave well enough alone. Enough is enough"? Now? Never? A/J
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