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Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Perfectionist.

When I was a kid, I was always the one that finished her assignments last. It wasn't because I was stupid or didn't know what I was assigned to do or anything; it was mostly because I had this perfectionist complex that wouldn't allow me to complete anything without checking and re-checking or tweaking and perfecting it.

This problem (if you can call it a problem, to me it's more of a trait) climaxed twice (as it did many times) in first grade. In the first incident we were writing a personal narrative about the circus. It was a rather large project that we were given at least two weeks to complete. We were required to write a rough draft, proofread it multiple times, and eventually complete a final copy--which only turned out to be about a page total, if that, but for a second grader it seemed like quite a task. For the final project as a whole we also had to color illustrations and particularly a very detailed front cover printed with the face of your typical circus clown (come on, you gotta make it fun for the kiddies somehow, right?). It was impressed upon us that making this front cover as aesthetically pleasing and enticing as possible was a crucial part of the grade. Our teacher even gave examples of enticing children's books that we could sort of imitate.

So here was my first grade self, literally believing that I needed to put intense amounts of effort into the cover alone so that I could make it look as much like an Eric Carl cover as any second grader with any type of artistic talent could. While most of my peers finished coloring their clowns in unoriginal ways with rainbow hair outside the lines, typical white make-up and red nose and exaggerated smile, I was determined to make mine unique and as professional-looking as a page out of a first-grade teacher's manual can get. Needless to say this took me more than two class periods to complete, which was much more than the allotted time had originally been. My teacher was frustrated with me and encouraged me to move on so that I could complete the actual writing part of my assignment. So when I was finally pleased with my cover (although I still found it imperfect), I moved on to finish filling my final draft in the booklet that was encased in said cover. Thanks to my use of exceeding amounts of time on coloring, I was unable to finish filling in my final copy. This ended in tears and a less-than-perfect grade (I got a B instead of an A, since apparently the coloring was worth less than I had thought). So although I had misinterpreted my teacher in thinking the coloring was the most important part of the grade, I still let my perfectionism get the better of me.

This happened once again later in the year in math. We were doing two-digit subtraction and I just didn't seem to have a knack for it. Either I had missed the lesson or just plain couldn't comprehend the idea of borrowing ones from the tens' place. When the two-digit subtraction test grades were returned I immediately burst into tears. It was the first test I had ever failed, and I was appalled and ashamed. I got a 41, and felt like I would have to remain in the first grade forever. My mother was even called over my hysterics. It was arranged that I would stay for the afternoon after school to receive some individual tutoring. It only took me that afternoon to really learn it, and they let me retake the test for an A, but once again I had allowed my innocent cravings for perfection determine my emotional state in life.

I say the emotional state of my life; this seems dramatic for a child, but I never knew any different--I always expected perfection from myself because my grades so constantly reflected that. I had straight A's until I took algebra in the 7th grade. That is why I call it innocent.

But however innocent and admirable that I strove to do the best I could do, expecting total perfection is detrimental to one's psyche, considering that such is impossible. I became too hard on myself for anything less than as close to perfection as possible. It was counter-productive and anti-beneficial to achieving the goals I had for myself.

It was something I have been working on getting over for quite some time. College studies have been quite humbling. Perfection is, indeed, impossible. Yet I have also learned something much bigger. Life is not all about having the perfect marks or even being the best at something. It's what you get out of what you're doing. If you're the best in your class at calculus, but hate math, where are you? Are you really happy? Sure, you may be pleased with yourself, but unless you have some sort of devilish superiority complex I doubt even being the best at something you hate will make you happy.

I have to stop seeking perfection. I have to stop trying to be the best, and strive to do my best. I will seek happiness, and try to truly enjoy what I get out of everything I do. If that means accepting a less-than-appealing grade in organic chemistry but truly enjoying the activities I'm involved in or even finding a smidge of time to relax, I'll take it. Life isn't about being THE BEST or being PERFECT, it's about being happy.


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