I had a bad ride
|December 10, 2022
|Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized
I had a bad ride this week.
But it doesn’t make me a bad rider.
That distinction has not always been clear in my mind.
It has been brought to my attention recently that I am a perfectionist.
No. Really. This is something I’ve *just learned* about myself.
Please stop laughing and wipe those tears from your eyes. I’m being serious.
This whole perfectionist thing sort of feels like that time that I stared my psychiatrist in the eye and said “Panic attacks? Oh no, I never have those.”
I believed that statement right up to the point when three days later I completely lost my ability to read, almost passed out from holding my breath because I got off on the wrong train stop.
I still remember the revelation I had during that episode as my vision tunneled. “I bet this is what she was talking about. I think this is a panic attack. OMG. I *do* have panic attacks!”
Turns out I was having 3-4 panic attacks per week. Oops….
I literally had no idea. Doesn’t everyone feel a primal lizard brain fear-of-their-life panic when they miss their train stop? Or their exit? Or misplace an object? Or have to ask for help? Since it happened to me all the time I thought it was *normal.* That day I did what I always did when faced with the life-or-death situation of a minor inconvenience and pasted a smile on my face below my wild darting eyes and said in the most chipper voice possible to friends and strangers who looked in my direction, “oh I’m totally fine!”
I laughed when my friend pointed out I was a perfectionist.
“Who me? Hahaha! I’m so bad at practically everything and have no illusions I can do anything perfectly that I don’t even try! My self loathing is entirely justified when I don’t measure up to my personal standards because my standards for myself are always completely reasonable!”
A perfectionist was one of those poor souls that is slaving away over some detail that doesn’t matter. You’ve got a 95%…why get a 100%?
That was never me. In general, I didn’t and don’t care about the details being right or earning every point on exams as long as it was “good enough.” If my best effort is not required to meet the benchmark, why would I waste more energy on it than I absolutely have to? Get that sh*t done and move onto what I really cared about. It’s why my blog posts are filled with mistypes and errors. I make sure it’s “good enough” (which means it communicates the emotions and ideas adequately) before hitting publish. It’s why I did well enough to pass in vet school but wasn’t at the top of my class. I thought that if I could choose to do something less than perfect on purpose, that meant I was not a perfectionist.
Turns out the reason perfectionism didn’t show up in school is because my brain wasn’t particular concerned with school. It was reserving it’s energy for it’s real project.
Project: Me….and the things I really cared about, that define who I am to myself.
My body shape and size. Horses. Approval and respect from the people around me. Never making a mistake or having a lapse in judgement.
Polo is what exposed me.
When polo is good it’s good. The camaraderie, the horses, the adrenaline. But, polo is so hard. I can’t even explain how hard it is. Because I care deeply about polo, of course I care about every. little. detail. and I judge my self worth on every. little. detail. It’s crippling sit in my hot tub thinking about all the things that went wrong in practice, but that’s what I did for the first six months I played polo.
One of my teammates connected the dots told me to stop being a perfectionist.
What? No. I’m not a perfectionist.
Yes. I am. I set standards that are increasingly unobtainable. Unless something requires a complete sacrifice, it isn’t enough. My standards had to be such that successes are far and few between because that is the only thing that makes the accomplishments “worth” anything.
After all, I grew up in the often ridiculed “self-esteem” era where I was regularly told by the generation above me how outrageous it was that everyone in my age got a participation trophy, or was told to find value within themselves not matter what the external benchmark was. I was told in church that to those that much had been given, much was expected. I found myself wishing that I was the widow in the parable able to give a coin and have it fulfill the requirement rather than this hell where nothing I did was quite good enough for the people around me or the voice inside my head because I privately knew that I had more to give than most.
Because of the kindness and patience of my teammate and my friend, I’ve finally begin to unravel this self-destructive thinking pattern and once I saw it…I couldn’t unsee it in almost every area of my life. And Once I started to see how damaging it was to my polo player, I started to see how damaging it was to other areas of my life too.
It’s been a private joke for a long time that I only stick to the hobbies I’m bad about. Things I’m a natural at? Boring…..Something I’m completely unsuited for and cause crippling self-debt and loathing and are unable to master even with single-minded dedication and focus? Sign me up.
It’s great to not be satisfied with easy wins and mediocracy. It’s not so great when you keep moving the bar so that no matter what, it’s never enough. Here’s the biggest change of how I’m approaching my days to keep the perfectionist spiral at the minimum.
I plan for my worst day, not my best.
All my daily tasks and rituals are planned around the time and energy I have on my worst days instead of the ideal day.
What can I consistently accomplish if I sleep in, have to work, and cook dinner for the family?
Setting the definition of success here instead of the ideal “get up at 5am, and do ALL the things because with superior time management and focus IT IS POSSIBLE” is weird. The bar is so low. How can I expect to do anything worthwhile with a bar that low? Isn’t success only possible with near-total sacrifice and hard work?
(Shut up brain.)
But it’s working. By setting the bar lower and not moving it just out of reach I’m happier and my mistakes and failures have stopped defining me. Bad rides have become just that…a bad ride that don’t make me a bad rider. A complication on a case doesn’t make me a bad vet. It’s just a complication. A lapse in judgement or a harsh word isn’t a moral failing, it just means I’m human.
It’s ok to regularly cross the finish line and leave something within yourself to live the next day. It is still enough.