Mistakes and Perfectionism

Like a lot of artistic folks I know, I’m a perfectionist, but only when it comes to what I write or the art I produce. It’s never good enough, so I keep it on the hard drive and never send it out. But I want a life where I am supported by my writing, and the only way to do that is to cut it off, tell myself it’s good enough, and send it on its way.

It feels as though I’ll be cutting off a limb, however. I keep all my written material close to me and unfinished. Well, no, I have finished some things, and sent them out, but they’ve been rejected by the handful of places I’ve sent them to.

It’s kind of like my relationship to the dating site I’m on. I kind of don’t want to be in a relationship, but I feel like my life would be improved by the addition of someone to go on dates with. So I put myself out there on the site, and I get email from a variety of men, and I never follow through. It’s a push and a pull simultaneously. I think I’ve somehow convinced myself that men will only want sex and that I won’t be able to find one that doesn’t smell funny.

I’m similarly hard on myself at work, and it isn’t helped at all by a boss who is very critical of the work my team does. She doesn’t hand out compliments, that’s for sure. So I’m always convinced that this is it, she’s going to fire me, and I’m doing a terrible job because I made a mistake. When actually, if you look at my work as a whole I am working very capably and keeping things afloat in the department in my little corner of the world.

That’s the key, what I did in that last paragraph: Look at the work objectively, as if someone else were doing it. And then give myself the appropriate kudos for doing it well. It’s so difficult to do. Somehow self-recrimination comes more easily. I wonder why that is? Is there some kind of reward in the brain for delving into oneself and wallowing in self-criticism? Why not wallow in self-regard? It’s so much easier to see what wrong, I suppose.

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Jackie Olsen

Come for the insights on aging, leave with a doggie bag full of frogs and exoplanets. Now more poems about vacuuming! she/her/hers