Wednesday, March 07, 2007


I didn't plan to perseverate so much on the difference between my public self and my secret self, but it's just sort of flowed that way. I've appreciated the comments.

Today in the library I happened to see a book that had been pulled from the stacks and set on top of one of the shelves. It was about gifted children and how telling them they're special can sometimes lead to all sorts of problems. If there's one message I took away from my childhood, it was that I am special. And, really, I suppose it was true in a way beyond the standard "every child is special" line. But just as this book seems to warn, I ended up feeling like I had to perform a certain way to measure up. Constantly performing turned my life into a performance.

Perhaps the best therapy for my perfectionism was med school. I learned to be happy with passing rather than acing tests. Very happy. Thrilled. And as much as I hated it, I had to face the fact that I was no longer the brightest person around, no longer a star, no longer "special". It was drilled into me constantly for four years.

I haven't really lost my perfectionism, but it has been thoroughly tempered. I'm okay with failure in a way that I've never been before. I'm okay with faults. I'm okay with personal fallibility. I can even honestly criticize myself in this blog space--this weird half-life between public and private--most of the time without acquiring bruises that would otherwise make me withdraw.

And while this post is mainly about my past, and what has got me to where I am, I'm happy that I'm in a place that doesn't settle with character flaws but doesn't demand liberation overnight either. I've found the zone well distanced from overly wrought suicidal on the one hand and complacently damned on the other, and it feels sort of... perfect.


playasinmar said...

Life is like a game of Jenga: it's pretty boring until you find a few flaws.

Anonymous said...

It's so true. Life has its way of teaching you through extremes. Sometimes the only way to gain is by losing. Especially when there are issues of self control. God seems kind enough to remind us in remote instances just who is in charge by allowing us to suffer. When we let go enough of our own devices to take his extended hands we are reminded of his devotion and love for us. We learn there that everything we enjoy is because of his presence in our lives.

TK said...

As I read this I wondered if you were an 'oldest child'. I could identtify with the 'performance' thing. It's not like you try to put on an act to deceive, but rather that, as a child, you feel that more is expected of you than you can possibly produce naturally, so you end up trying so hard (to please) that you end up with a habit, as an adult, of constantly feeling like you can't be accepted unless you put on this 'perfect' performance.

But as anonymous suggests, if you're lucky, life will put you through something that kind of makes it impossible to continue. You suffer, but then you happily learn (to your surprise!) that hey, you're still okay and accepted, even without trying so excruciatingly hard! And you didn't really realize what you had been doing until you get past it, and look back!

Whew! I didn't know I had such strong feelings about this! :)

drex said...

Not only is perfectionism a natural occurance for me, it was engrained in my being from an early age. For starters, my mom is Chinese. Tack on the fact that both my parents are brilliant and find success in most things they do, and I had a childhood where the response to a 95 was "why isn't this a 100?" Still, because I've learned to temper my perfectionism, I find it a great asset to motivation and diligence, and wouldn't trade it for anything.

PS, you said in an earlier entry to let you know when us newcomers pop up with fresh fodder for the masses. Here I am, announcing my presence officially.

-L- said...

TK, I'm actually a youngest child... but I still felt like I had to be an example to some of my older siblings.

Drex, thanks for letting me know about your blog! It will be fun to get to know you.