Our theme for the month of November is “firsts.”
To say I am a perfectionist is to perilously simplify the situation. I look at life the same way some wayward gymnast might look at a floor routine: sure, some moves are worth more than others and I should probably pay closest attention to those because they make up a larger chunk of my final score, but I’m really focused on the panache points I can accumulate here or there based on little things that I can most easily control. My overall scores are generally mediocre at best, but I always stick the landing.
The best and worst example of this is The Streak. If I do something three times in a row, regardless of its intrinsic value, I have to keep doing it. In school I aimed for perfect attendance, and that first day that I didn’t come to school because I was sick was always a personal failure. I bought the first three books in the Twilight Saga, but couldn’t justify the money or shame of the last one, so I gave the ones I owned to a library rather than keep an incomplete set on my bookshelf. I once had an ineffectual crush on the same boy for five years in a row because my mama didn’t raise no quitter.
As I’ve gotten older and less hormonal, and as I’ve addressed my mental illnesses, I’ve stopped banking so much on The Streak, but always when I fail for that first time, I feel a silly amount of guilt as a result. Whenever the Duolingo app restarts its daily goal counter, I sigh for what was lost. When Pokémon Go tells me that I’m only on my first Poké Stop, I have been known to actually stomp my foot like a child. And this year, when I knew I wasn’t super thrilled about my NaNoWriMo novel idea, I tried not to remind anyone that I was planning on writing for it, because I didn’t want to have to have the “I’m not going to win this year” conversation if I could avoid it.
In fact, I have a Facebook message from one Gabe Gunnink sitting “unread” in my inbox because I was cheering Gabe on and talking up how much I love NaNo and how achievable it is…and now I don’t have the guts to tell him that it just wasn’t in the cards for me this year and he should go on without me. I was in denial about that until literally right now. As I write this. Hi Gabe! I’m sorry, Gabe.
My kind of perfectionism is useless. Sure, I do my job well, and when something is worth taking seriously, I like to think I will put into it the time and effort necessary. But sometimes I do something only so people will know that I didn’t not do it, and that is wasting my time and draining myself of the energy or opportunity to do the real, worthwhile things. Like talk to Gabe. This weird, anal-retentive streaking of Streaks might actually be the cause of half of my social awkwardness: am I competing with everyone for everything all the time? I think it might very well be right there at the heart of my low self-esteem and confidence, right next to that one Third Grade Teacher who put my clothespin on the yellow circle because I didn’t know the answer to a question.
I’ve developed this existential dread of that First Failure, but I can do something about that. I can have as many First Failures as I have Streaks, if I want to. I can prove to myself that my worth as a person isn’t somehow tied to my continuation of things.
I’ve written a post for the post calvin on the nineteenth of every month since July of 2013. This is the first one I failed to end with correct punctuation?
Mary Margaret is a 2013 English, history, and secondary education grad who went rogue and became a Social Worker in Pennsylvania’s Child Welfare system. Specifically, she works as a caseworker in the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network finding families for children and educating the masses about foster care, adoption, and permanency planning. She made it over the grad-school hurdle with gold stars and warm fuzzies and is on to the next big adventure: the unknown of adulthood. Her major writing dream right now is to finish her science fiction novel that explores the concurrent futures of child welfare and artificial intelligence.