So I struggle with perfectionism. I’m sure this is not a surprise to any of you, even if you only know me through social media. That said, I do mean struggle. I know my perfectionism hobbles me, but I cannot get rid of that nagging voice that whispers, “But maybe you could be a LITTLE closer to perfect if you just don’t fuck this up…”
Throughout this pandemic, that voice has been not so little. It’s been shouting. This, also, isn’t a surprise as that voice is triggered by a lack of control. If I face new circumstances, or conflict, I want to know I’m doing The Right Thing. The Right Thing is the physical manifestation of perfectionism, and it’s like a turd on the bottom of the shoe that is my life. Because I am, fundamentally, a teacher and as a teacher my core philosophy is that there are better ways of doing things, based on preparation and research.
And if there are better things, why can’t there be the best thing—The Right Thing??
I know the answer to that question, btw. It’s because life is messy and there are almost always compromises, hurt feelings, and someone left out in the cold. It’s amazing when this doesn’t happen—and sometimes we get that golden moment when there’s way more pie than anyone thought and no one has to miss out on a slice. But normally we’re deciding between two things that kinda suck, or that could go tits up, or that we know can never be The Right Thing.
And this pandemic has catalyzed my perfectionism like iron and ammonia. And like ammonia, it stinks. But every day I struggle with worrying what is The Right Thing, and I know I’m not the only one.
If I cook at home, am I not supporting a beloved local business? But if I *do* order takeaway, am I forcing someone to work who will get sick and infect their whole family?
If I don’t go to the store, and have groceries delivered, forcing someone to work, is that better or worse than going to the store and interacting with so many people, who I could infect if I’m a secret carrier monkey a la Outbreak? And making all those people work?
Should I order this new set of sheets after hulking out and ripping the shit out of mine? (don’t ask). Because on the one hand, businesses need money. On the other hand, blah blah blah blah blah.
I know some people stopped reading when they read “I’m a perfectionist” because they’re like a) we know and b) that’s dumb. But it’s real to me, and I don’t think I’m alone in being left with this residual feeling that, not only have I messed up doing The Right Thing, but I’m actually a little WRONG all the time, now. Because it’s not so much that I can’t make decisions—I AM ordering the replacement sheets, and food from my favorite local, and I sometimes have them delivered and sometimes pick them up. But no matter what I decide, I’m left feeling that was actually The Wrong Thing.
I’ve come to two conclusions. The first one is obvious: I still need a lot more work on perfectionism. But the other thing came to me as I was listening to David Chang discussing the restaurant business on Larry Wilmore’s Black on the Air (a favorite podcast). David was talking about how one of the things that *can* come out of this experience is we learn to do the restaurant industry better, especially when it comes to the exploitation of its workers. And I’m realizing that part of the reason I can’t do anything right is because so much of what I’m interacting with is, fundamentally, wrong. In other words, the restaurant industry (as Chang, Anthony Bourdain, and so many others have written and spoken about) is fundamentally exploitative here in the US—Covid-19 hasn’t created this exploitation, it’s just highlighted it in a new way.
Weirdly, this gives me hope. Partially, this puts my “solution” back into my wheelhouse—research and implementation! By that I mean that I’m seeking out work by people like Chang—people speaking about what needs changing from the inside of their industry, whatever that industry is. And I’m looking to see who and what I need to support, financially or by writing letters or through my vote, to help them make those changes.
Because we do have an opportunity to make things better, coming out of this. So much of what Covid-19 has uncovered is a rotten system we’ve papered over. Just as I’m forced to confront that maybe I haven’t dealt with my perfectionism as much as I’d wanted to think, I’m also forced to contend with how much I’ve let convenience dictate my choices, encouraging me to look the other direction from my principles.
So, on that note, I’m going to order Brené Brown’s book on perfectionism that I told myself I needed to read years ago, but never did because it’s no fun poking the bruises. It’s super tempting to use Amazon and get it tomorrow, because I want to read it NOW. But I’m going to order it from my local bookstore, even though they charge for delivery and it won’t come for a while. It’s time I started doing, if not The Right Thing, then the thing that better aligns my money with my mouth.
I can still pursue better things, even if The Right Thing is a mirage.