I find myself at a crossroads in my career and like a grandpa inundated by the different kinds of milk at the grocery store nowadays (would you like skim, two percent, whole, almond or soy? In a quart or gallon? which brand?) I am rendered completely petrified. In a way, yes it’s a good—and dare I say—privileged problem to have, that I have so many opportunities to cherry pick from. But what’s interesting is it’s not the plethora of options that’s hindering me, but rather the fear of picking the wrong one. And perhaps more infuriatingly, when there really isn’t a “wrong” choice, how the hell can I know what the “right” choice is?
I reckon it must be how this girl felt in a reality TV show I was watching. She always had a knack for coloring—that’s right, not drawing but coloring—because she felt relieved of the pressure of actually creating the picture and could (excuse the cliché) stay within the lines. So when she was invited to an artist’s studio and the artist offered to teach her a lesson in sketching, the girl froze, her pencil centimeters from the page. Her mind went blank and she had no idea what to draw. “I can’t do this,” she said. The artist then laughed gently and said, “Most people think they can’t draw because they’re too concerned about making it pretty or perfect. Sometimes you just have to start drawing.”
It suddenly struck me that sometimes the drive for perfection can be the very thing that stunts us from doing the thing we most want to do. Not just in art, but also in life, because perfection is neither realistic nor meaningful.
I can be an inveterate prude when it comes to certain things, never choosing to act until I’ve carefully analyzed every angle. My boyfriend also noticed that when I do well on a test, for example, I would immediately say “Well, it was probably just an easy test.” I wish I could tell you it was to feign humility, but I do in fact believe that. When I tried to find the root of this insatiable thirst for perfection, my gaze invariably landed on my parents once again (when in doubt, blame your parents, right?) but this time I still couldn’t find the grounds to assign fault. Sure, they gave me the finger-wag if I didn’t do well in grade school, but before long they were singing quite the opposite tune, telling me to go to bed and stop stressing about my tests as early as in middle school. So what could it be? Is it simply, as Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman, “It’s easier to believe the bad stuff?”
It turns out that while my parents dole out their fair share of obligatory “I’m so proud of yous” and “It’s okay to fail sometimes,” the truth is, I’ve never actually seen them fail. Neither do they ever speak of their struggles or frustrations in front of little ol’ me. So subconsciously, I may have learned to discount the praise as mere courtesy. Unhealthy, I know, but still, not their fault entirely.
Once again, it was my suddenly omniscient boyfriend who nailed it on the head. It would appear that I can’t seem to take a compliment or make spontaneous decisions because I lack courage in myself, the courage to believe that I am indeed deserving of praise and that I would have the strength to overcome it if I made the wrong decision and failed. I may not be able to command the elements and guarantee calm waters before I set sail, but if it’s a matter of courage, it’s good to know at least that’s something I can control. So instead of pursuing perfection, maybe it’s time I acquire some grit.