If you asked most people that know me – both casually and perhaps more intimately – if I were a perfectionist, I’m sure the answer would be a resounding ‘NO’, probably prefaced with a snort and followed by a laugh and a “Are you serious?”. My home is a mess, I don’t follow a steady routine, in school I was a staunch believer in the ‘C’s get degrees’ mantra so I rarely tried to do well because it was hard.
But, internally, I know that I am this way not because I don’t care, but because I care too much. I’m a perfectionist – and that, mixed with my intense anxiety, causes me to chose to simply not do things or not try to do things because I know that it’s not going to be the way I want it. It won’t sound the way I want it to, the words won’t flow like I want, I won’t feel the way I want to feel so I assume all the effort will be negated – but on the outside, I’m sure it just comes across like a lack of effort.
I don’t like failing. As an anxious person that has a fear of being perceived as anything less than a successful, talented, adult man that unfortunately has a side of internalized narcissism right beside him at all times, I ultimately chose to just not try. I feel, whether rightly or not, that if I just come across as someone that doesn’t try and does so knowingly, then people’s expectations of me won’t go below where I want them. If no one expects me to be a certain way, and they see me as someone who just doesn’t try because I’m just that cool and laid-back, then I won’t be expected to try to do things and therefore I won’t be able to try to do things and thus fail at those things.
Am I making sense yet?
But then comes the second factor – my gosh darn fucking anxiety.
My thesis is that if I come across as someone that doesn’t want to try, I won’t be able to come across as a failure because I’m too cool to even do things. If I don’t go above and beyond at work, I won’t have the opportunity to fail at going above and beyond. If I never try to learn to play the guitar, I’ll never suck at it. If I never complete my damn novel that I’ve been working on for almost ten years, then no one will be able to reject it and no one will be able to dislike it. I can’t tell you how many incomplete posts sit inside my drafts folder because the thought of the two people that might read it thinking it’s stupid was too overwhelming.
But when you’re anxious the way I am, it doesn’t matter whether or not people dislike it or not. It doesn’t matter if I put something out there and people don’t respond to it, or if it doesn’t click with people, or if the quality isn’t satisfactory. I will automatically think the worst. At the end of the day, regardless of what I do, I will always think that the baseline impression that people have of me or anything I do is a negative one. I constantly think my coworkers dislike me and think my work is unsatisfactory. I constantly think my boss is ready to fire me. I constantly think that people who read my work think it’s stupid or if they do say something positive, they’re only doing it to humor me. Any friends I do have or people that I associate with merely tolerate me, and I don’t try to make any new friends because the idea of being rejected is so fucking overwhelming that I pull myself down into a spiral of anxiety.
So where does that leave me?
I refuse to try because I don’t want to be seen as a failure in anything I do, yet I automatically think people see me as a failure to begin with. All the while, my perfectionist brain is itching to do things perfectly and to excel and to show people how great I think I am, and my anxiety forces me not to.
There is no easy answer. I am 22 years old – and while I think I’m too old to ever turn things around, I know deep down that I still have time. But there’s so much work to be done and I don’t have the time or mental health capacity to do anything right now.
I may not be able to make new friends, or get my writing out there, or push myself to audition for theater shows or learn to play the guitar or join a poetry slam or go to local band shows and mosh or anything that might put myself out there.
But – what I can do, as small as it might be – is personal improvements. Channel my perfectionism in things that may only affect me, so the only person I can disappoint is myself.
Write more – for myself. Be comfortable with writing terribly for the sake of actually writing. Clean my room. Perfect my routine. Be a perfect (or simply better) person for myself first, and once I’m able to do that, reach out and try to change the way I am on the outside. Perfect myself for other people. Get out there and be myself instead of a watered down demo version of myself that I feel is more tolerable.
There is a lot to be done and it is not easy in the slightest. Trying to juggle my internalized perfectionism with my constant anxiety and fear of failure. But – at the very least – I can see the road I need to take. It’s miles long but the road is clear. And I know I’m not alone – I know, as much as I might think otherwise, that there are other people that are suffering through the same things I am and are trudging along that same winding highway with the hopes of getting better and being a better person for themselves and those around them.
Perfectionism is imperfect. Being a human is imperfect. But at least I have time to get it right.