Friday, October 19, 2007

On Perfectionism

K likes to remind me of how I love to be a perfectionist at certain actions. It's a valid accusation towards the infrequent updates to this blog, and it's my biggest stumbling block to happiness. For being a habit that's supposedly good to have, it has a lot of drawbacks.

You see, perfectionism is one of those things that make a person function and idiosyncratic and at the same time make them shut down. If you've never had the experience of meeting someone afflicted with this disease, let me elaborate. A perfectionist is someone who labors to remove all imperfections from a particular action before showing that action to all. In some endeavors, it makes sense; when you solder a circuitboard, perfectionism can make the difference between a circuit acting "glitchy" and a circuit working perfectly. Polish is extremely evident in writing, for it separates the haphazard writing of Palahniuk and Keruoac from the sublime of Pynchon and the terseness of Hemingway (sometimes it takes a lot of effort to say so little). These obvious exertions of effort make a perfectionist good inside when someone else picks up on it and compliments.

However, the woe of the perfectionist is multifaceted. For starters, perfectionists are avid procrastinators; they don't like to start because of the imperfection of the plan of action. They usually use excuses related to this lack of planning, situation, or energy to delay really important tasks (even mundane ones) and this leads to dysfunction or even despondency. Second, a perfectionist usually dreams big, because of earlier successes that promote the idea that more effort at perfecting a task produces unbounded quality. These big dreams fly in the face of a currently reasonable and sensible plan. In addition, usually these high expectations usually lead to internal rejection of an outcome that isn't as ideal as mentally pictured. Because of the relatively high frequency of this happening, this leads to depression, especially when the perfectionist broods over what "could have been". Perfectionists tend to dislike probabilistic concepts such as luck, fate, serendipity, and calamity because not only are these imperfect but they can spoil an otherwise perfect plan. Finally, procrastinators don't like to finish, putting in excessive effort beyond the point of diminishing returns, wasting so much quality time.

From start to finish, perfectionists set themselves up to hate the things they do except in that rare time when everything goes right, which they then obsess about and use it as confirmation bias for their admittedly illogical actions.

How does one break the habit? Simple. Do things you're no good at. It turns out that a perfectionist will truly enjoy activities where they believe that they have no vested interest to polish, compete, or succeed. It's the reason I got into karaoke, and why I still enjoy it to this day: my voice is nowhere near perfect, I don't look to perfect my singing (except I do want to increase my range, so there's more music available that I'll be able to hit the high notes on :D), and usually the involvement of a little grog makes me forget that I'm getting good at it. Recently I won this contest at a local bar which gave me a slot for a bigger competition. The night of that competition was the least enjoyable night of karaoke I've ever had. Why? Because my perfectionist side reminded me how imperfect my singing was, and I wasn't able to get "in the mood", even after a couple beers. After that I resolved never to take any singing event seriously, and I've had a good time at karaoke since.

Such as last night, which was at the same bar as that competition. There was no competition, only good time had by all. We all joined in singing along, and had a blast past midnight. I needed sleep that next morning, and wasn't quite the perfectionist at work, but I was also reminded how much more vibrant life can be when you're not so worried about how you can make life more vibrant.

And with that, I'm gonna go work on perfecting my Halloween costume. Er... or maybe not. :D


Anonymous said...

Are you being coy about this person named K? Or is that the person's actual name? We noticed that you use other people's actual names but not this person's.

Leadhyena Inrandomtan said...

Really, there's no coyness, though K is a good friend of mine. I am a believer in reflected privacy. If someone doesn't or wouldn't care that their name be used in the blog, I use it. This particular person seems to be picky about their name, using different pseudonyms in different situations (I'd use examples but that'd betray my intention to keep this privacy intact). In fact, I wrote about pseudonyms back in August and do believe in the usage of what one would call a "persona firewall", and it would be hypocritical of me not to show this similar respect to others.

Anonymous said...

Heh Heh K talking here... no coyness, just being careful. I'm a teacher, so, even online, I can't shake the feeling that I need to be careful about how I portray myself. Any thoughts I have that might be too revealing or controversial, I don't attribute to my real name. LeadHyena is just keeping up my "persona firewall!"
If I leave teaching and join adult-land, I don't think I'll feel the same caution. As a teacher, I have to limit the personal info I share. You want students to know you, but you also need them to see you as a teacher and not as sibling/babysitter/parent. If you don't walk that line properly, you can't be as effective as a teacher...
Many jobs probably have a "don't talk about drinking and/or politics" policy, but in teaching it's very, very clear that you don't do that! You don't want a kid asking you about rum and cokes, and you don't want a parent asking why you are trash-talking George Bush...
Teaching is weird that way... you're accountable to oh, 150 parents and kids who you don't want too much in your business.

Anonymous said...

Cool - very understandable. I just couldn't figure out why all the name-dropping was going on when 1) it was not vital to the point of the story, and 2) he never explains who this person is.

Of course, we all fully understand the need to keep our professional and personal lives separate.