It all gets to be too much sometimes, and we fall behind. In school maybe, or at work, or in our personal lives, falling behind is a part of life unfortunately. To err is human.
A vicious cycle consumes me. Perfectionism leads to a crippling fear of getting it wrong, leads to not doing it, leads to regret, leads to the feeling that it’s too late to catch up. This is a tough hurdle to clear, and I still snag my back shoe on it and stumble from time to time.
Maybe some people can succeed being perfectionists—Steve Jobs, famously. That doesn’t mean that those people, or any other successful person, achieved their success through inactivity. Doing it is the only way to achieve success. More is lost on indecision than wrong decision. I learned that from Tony Soprano.
There’s also a logical conundrum for which perfectionists have to answer. Assuming that you can’t start out being perfect, how do you mean to get from conception to perfection? Presumably by trial and error. If there’s another way to do it, I’m not aware what it is. Even if the trial and error process is done entirely in your head, it is still done. So why am I afraid to pass by the imperfect iterations of my vision on my way to perfection? I don’t know.
The one part of my vicious cycle that is most demonstrably false is the part about it being too late to catch up. It’s never too late. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. I think perfectionism is just another in a long line of excuses I use to let myself off the hook too easily. The only beneficial way to proceed is to realize you fucked up, own it, and keep on truckin’.
My college experience was wrought with mediocrity because of the harmful perfectionism that exists in my mind. It’s something I fight against constantly. I’ll only respect myself as a writer, entrepreneur, philosopher, whatever else, as I get better; the only way to get better is to practice. Speaking of self-respect, I sure as hell don’t respect myself when I allow myself to fall victim yet again to the cycle and end up falling behind.
I ask myself questions to remind myself how the world works. What if John Lennon hadn’t picked up a guitar because he was afraid he wouldn’t be very good at it? Thomas Edison? Hemingway? A million others.
Falling behind is fine. Wallowing, stubbornness, immaturity—staying behind? Not fine. Perfectionism is a great mindset to have only when it manifests as a mental and emotional funnel of productivity. More often than not, in my experience at least, perfectionism manifests more as a mental and emotional vacuum of productivity. Perhaps perfectionism is like a cancer. It infects us and spreads and ruins us and there is not yet a comprehensive cure. Doing it is the chemotherapy to the cancer that is my perfectionism. I’ve got to always bear this in mind.
I was meant to post a blog every day of December, and I made it only a few days before I missed a post. I went to a hockey game and completely forgot about posting. My instincts tell me to pinch my mental nipples, to bite my mental tongue and iron my mental hands to punish myself. But I’m not gonna do that. I’m going to dust myself off and get back on track. I’ll see you at the finish line.