Yes, I admit it. I do have at least some perfectionist tendencies. Terrible, I know. You will be shaking your head and clucking in despair at this appalling revelation, though I do take issue with a friend who describes my minor affliction as “crippling,” just as I would defy anyone to prove it is the first grim step on a downward spiral to nothingness. I never thought of it as a bad trait, merely a very positive tendency that anything I choose to do I want to do as well as it is possible for me to do. No doubt it can turn into a vicious cycle for some people but there is always that shining positive edge that you can exceed all possible expectations and maybe even perform miracles – and how else do athletes break world records and win golds from nowhere if they haven’t set their mental sights on higher than the highest level? Maybe it’s a need to prove yourself, but if it does drive you to achieving better results it surely can’t be a bad thing?
For the record, the conversation with my friend was about why I beat myself up for making mistakes. Not sure I really punish myself as such, but if I didn’t feel bad when things don’t go the way I want you could accuse me of not giving a toss – and to me that is one of the worst crimes of all.
Since I do very much give a toss, if in practice this means I have to aim for zero defect for everything worthwhile achieving (while not quite achieving it), so be it – failures are not tolerable and you have to strive for 100% or why bother trying? You’re destined for mediocrity and won’t ever do anything to a standard of excellence.
That’s the point. If I didn’t aspire to improve and do better, life would not be worth living – something a number of people in my life find difficult to understand. In order to hit 95+% you have to aim at the 100%, and if you aim lower then you will get nothing like that high, because mistakes are allowed. I’d say the key to success is to choose your battles and not be anally perfectionist in everything – only those things where you stand a realistic chance of success.
In short – you don’t have to be OCD about perfectionism, only use it as a tool where it helps. It doesn’t have to be a means of hindering success, as this would suggest, only in focusing the mind on finding the best ways to get there. It might be more stressful than not trying at all, but then you do need some stress and momentum just to keep going. Being totally languid is probably not a recipe for any sort of progress in life! It doesn’t have to be anxiety-provoking to have a fine attention to detail, neither does it force you to procrastinate, or fail to learn lessons and move on.
So I write and challenge myself to learn lines and complete a range of impossible tasks as a stretch target. If I can’t be demanding of myself I could never be demanding of anyone else, now could I? For some people that might be fine, but while I’m physically capable of doing something better, I make no apology whatever for aiming high and squeezing every ounce from the potential contained herein.
Could simply be my personal expectations of what I can achieve, of course, something we all do – but if it’s an objective standard of excellence, so much the better. Don’t we all love to be applauded for our efforts by other people? And if you are going to surpass previous performances of whatever it happens to be, you have to try just that little bit harder – as famously sung by Janis Joplin!
For example, when acting one level of competence might simply be to remember your lines and be in the right place at the right time, but that on its own is no good if you recite your lines in a monotone. The art is convincing members of the audience that you are your character, then conveying your part in the story with empathy and conviction, or indeed any other emotion required by the play and playwright. By definition it can’t be perfect, since every time you perform it’s only one possible interpretation among many – but it can be as good as that interpretation will permit.
There are other tasks I know I can’t do to my own satisfaction, and granted there are also many household jobs where dabbling is not just unwise but downright dangerous! Much the best solution to get in the man who knows how – and I’m thinking plumbing and electricity here, though it could just as easily apply to many others. As my grandmother used to say, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and when screwing it up could easily spell death and/or disaster.
That said, there are some I ought to have a go at but my innate demand for perfection demands otherwise. Not that I haven’t had a go at decorating, for example, but to me it would never be good enough if I did it – so I have a go at painting walls, I would sooner pay for an professional to do a first class job.
So why writing: am I perfectionist here? Yes and no is the answer: yes when writing the novels, since I pore over every line with exhaustive attention to detail, try things out, return them back to how they were or rewrite them entirely until I have reached the point where they are as right as they could possible be – but even then there will be sections I’m not happy with or which could be improved, to my mind.
However, the joy of blogging is that while you can plan it and write a measured essay, you can also write whatever is on your mind, warts and all, and it will be taken as it comes. No need for perfection, it is what it is!