Do Your Worst
December 8, 2007 § 6 Comments
As I was bearing down on the last few pages of my dissertation proposal, the New York Times published an article about perfectionism, which, in true social scientific fashion, listed three identifiable types of sufferers:
Self-oriented strivers who struggle to live up to their high standards and appear to be at risk of self-critical depression; outwardly focused zealots who expect perfection from others, often ruining relationships; and those desperate to live up to an ideal they’re convinced others expect of them, a risk factor for suicidal thinking and eating disorders.
Um, I’ll take self-oriented strivers for 100, Alex. Of course I will: I’m a Virgo, after all, and therefore astrologically predisposed to this particular condition. As for the others, I’ve known them too. I have a close friend who is the utter personification of type three, and I briefly dated a type two before I caught a whiff of it and ran for the hills. (Shudders.)
In any case, I’ve thought a lot about the article since happening across it, and also about something Jake wrote en route to his triumphant completion of NaBloPoMo:
I had started on another novel last year which began with a quick flourish and then had stalled. After about eleven months of thinking and writing I was stuck at about fifty pages of a novel that was in danger of never being completed. I was happy with the quality of the writing within that first novel but that’s the problem. I only allowed myself to write what I considered to be quality writing.
You know, if he’d just take up smoking we could play doubles. Go on…
During this month’s NaNoWriMo the approach was to write whatever comes to mind, never look back and never second guess. The result is that I have now written over a hundred pages of a novel that may turn out in the end to be even better than the first one. I’ve found that you need to jump in, let yourself go and allow yourself to make mistakes.
Of course it’s true, even if it feels like being water-boarded at the time. Which, I promise you, it does. I suppose imperfection is something that some of us have to learn, and although I won’t presume to speak for Jake, I myself have been an agonizingly slow study. Ultimately, perfectionism is a habit of mind, and those only break with time.
The Times piece concludes with some sage advice:
The British have a saying that encourages people to show their skills while mocking the universal fear of failure: Do your worst. If you can’t tolerate your worst, at least once in a while, how true to yourself can you be?
So, finally, I’ve done my worst, and from what I can tell it ain’t half-bad. Next stop: ABD.