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Posts Tagged ‘perfectionism’

I don’t really like pain, and I don’t like to feel uncomfortable. Sometimes I daydream about my ideal life, when I have fixed all my problems, have everything I want, and am exactly where I want to be in my career.I will never achieve that ideal life. And thank goodness, because if I did I’d be bored stiff…in which case I would have a problem, wouldn’t I?

Seth Godin published an insightful post last week entitled “Trading in your pain,” in which he outlines two common problems we can have due to our relationship with pain.

The first is the “if only” syndrome. We think if only something (fill in the blank) happens, then everything will be great and we won’t feel pain/discomfort/ uncertainty anymore. If only I meet the right person. If only I buy the right house. If only I remodel. If only I get an agent. If only I sell my first novel. If only my sales figures exceed a certain golden number. If only I win this award or make that bestseller list. If only I get this promotion. If only I was better or had more or …

That’s not generally the way things work, though. Whatever “if only” you’re hoping for (and I’m holding out for several myself), even if it happens, it will open the way to new challenges, new problems, new if only’s, and new pain as you strive. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re not doing well. It doesn’t mean you’re not good enough. It’s just life.

The second is the “fear of change” syndrome. We sometimes become comfortable with a certain flavor of pain or discomfort, and we hold onto it really tightly so we won’t have to deal with another, unknown flavor instead. We become frozen. Stagnant. Afraid of success and the new problems success will bring us. Afraid of a different failure mode and how that will make us feel.

Behind the GateWriters who don’t write are having this second problem. They are used to dealing with the failure mode of “I suck because I’m not writing” and don’t want to address whatever issues might come up if they actually did write: “I suck because I’m not selling” or “I suck because I’m not selling enough” or “I suck because now I have to make business decisions” or whatever.

But I see this problem everywhere, not just in writers. We make ourselves at home with a certain problem, and settle in for keeps. And in the process, we get stuck. We can’t move on; we can’t grow.

Our identity and our personal narrative become entwined with our pain. I’m the girl whose mother died when I was only nineteen. That’s not who I am anymore. It is, however, who I could have been. It is who I was for a period of years. And then I let go and moved on. Instead I’m the girl who loved her mother very much.

Pain can be your friend. It will be lurking nearby for your entire life, and that’s okay. It means you’re alive, and it reminds you that you care what happens. It can push you forward instead of holding you still. It can give you focus instead of causing you to scatter. It can make our priorities clear to us.

If you could shed one “if only” or do one thing that makes you frightened, what would it be?

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I stumbled across Brenda Cooper revisiting her predictions for 2011, and my interest was completely captured. “What a fun game!” I thought. “Maybe I should make some predictions myself for 2012.” Then I thought again. “But many of my predictions will end up being wrong.” The unimaginable horror of that idea paraded through my brain.

So of course, now I have to write 2012 predictions to take my first good whack at my perfectionism this year. And not only that, but I am going to write them quickly, without obsessive researching, and I’m going to write them boldly without resorting to wishy-washiness.  Are you ready?

Publishing

  • E-books will continue to gain share in the marketplace. Based on the huge amount of Kindles that sold this December, I’m going to say that by the end of 2012, we’re going to see e-books up to 35% of the market…at least.
  • Publishers will hold firm at a 25% net royalty for electronic sales…except for the biggest author names.
  • A couple of major name authors will strike out on their own and release titles themselves. Because they are big names, they will easily be able to continue commanding shelf space at B&N.
  • Publishers will begin (or continue?) to commit more resources to building stronger relationships with readers (more aggressively building their email lists, for example) and developing brand recognition for their publishing imprints apart from author names. (This one, I am afraid, might be overly optimistic, but I can’t help myself!)
  • There will be no definitive answer in the traditional vs. self-pub debate. Some writers will go all in one way or another and be super judgmental of anyone doing something different. The smartest writers will do both. There will continue to be a stigma, although not nearly as strong as it was even a few years ago, against self-published work by writers who haven’t already been traditionally published. Interestingly, there will be no stigma against those writers who raise money for projects using crowd-sourcing platforms like Kickstarter. (Maybe because Kickstarter mainly works for those writers who already have an established fan base?)

Current Affairs

  • There will be the usual hoop-la of a US election year. Romney will win the Republican nomination, and Obama will win the election, but it will be a hard fight. Voter apathy will be more of a problem than it was in 2008.
  • The Euro will still exist as a currency at the end of 2012. No promises for 2013, though!
  • Some major shit will go down in Egypt this year, what with elections expected in the next six months. The military won’t let go of power easily.
  • Syria’s government will collapse by the end of the year.
  • The economic turmoil in the EU and the political turmoil in the Middle East won’t do the US economy any favors. Oil prices will go up. Volatility in the stock market will continue. I don’t expect unemployment rates to improve substantially (although I’d be very happy to be wrong).
  • My husband says the cinema industry will begin to tank this year, but I disagree. I actually think 2012 will be better than 2011 in terms of box office sales. The foreign markets for movies will continue to be robust.
  • Social media sites will try to collect ever more information about their users. Some people will continue, inexplicably, to think that they should overshare mundane data with their “friends.” Facebook, Google+, and Twitter will all continue to exist healthily at the end of the year. Klout, on the other hand, will have lost its klout in most circles due to both its basic dullness and its arbitrary algorithms (how I can lose or gain influence over 1000 people in the course of a single day is beyond me).
  • Houses will begin to become “smarter,” both due to Kinect technology and chips that talk to each other over WiFi and Bluetooth.
  • Scientists will push stem cell research farther this year, and will succeed in regenerating a more complicated organ (they’ve already done bladders and tracheae).
  • There will still be no flying cars or Asimov-esque robots in general use (and no, I don’t count the Roomba).

Care to play along? What predictions can you make about 2012?

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At this time of year, I always feel like I’m straddling the flow of time. Half of myself is looking backwards and evaluating what has gone on before, while the other half is looking forward to what the next year may hold for me. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions per say because I prefer a continuous evaluation process, but thinking in terms of units of time can be helpful when trying to look at the bigger picture of my life.

So, without further ado, here are a few reflections on 2011 and few wishes for the year to come.

Cute little Nala and me

Writing:

2011 was an exciting year because it was the first year I had something published, thus realizing a dream I have cherished since I was seven years old. Hooray! In fact, I had three short stories published this year, one of them to a pro market. I was also able to join SFWA as an associate member.

My wish for 2012 is that I am able to use the lessons I learned this year to increase both my productivity and my enjoyment in writing. (Being greedy, I also wish for more sales.)

Health:

The first half of 2011 was dominated by crazy dental problems. While that silly crown still often aches, the level of pain has subsided to the realms of the tolerable. I also had more ankle problems. But on the plus side, my knees continued to improve in a most pleasing fashion. I also began to eat more healthily, trying to limit my consumption of saturated fats in particular, and have done fairly well with it (although not when traveling. Eating healthily when traveling is ridiculously hard).

My wish for 2012 is to keep growing stronger so I have less overall aches and pains, and to continue following my moderate diet.

Travel:

2011 was the first year in a long time that I didn’t leave the country. Various health concerns dampened my travel ambition somewhat, and I mostly stayed close to home. My favorite trip of the year was my first time in Washington D.C. in March. I would definitely return there for a follow-up visit someday. We also attended the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, visited Disneyland with friends, and relaxed over Thanksgiving at our favorite Maui vacation spot.

I was able to attend five writing conferences and conventions, two local and three an easy traveling distance: Potlatch, FogCon, SCBWI LA, WorldCon, and World Fantasy. I particularly enjoyed attending the inaugural FogCon and moderating my first two panels, and catching up with my wonderful writer friends (and making new ones) at the larger conventions was fabulous as usual.

My wish for 2012 is to leave the United States. We’re thinking either Japan or certain favorite Western European locations…

Personal Growth:

I wrote about the two most important lessons I’ve learned this year last week. I feel like I’ve made a fair amount of progress on the people pleaser front and have developed a stronger backbone. I’m more likely to stand up for myself and less likely to take responsibility for everyone else. So, yay!

My wish for 2012 is to continue tackling my vicious perfectionist streak and to do further work towards trusting myself and my abilities. I’d also like to be able to reach out more to other people.

Happy upcoming New Year, dear readers! What are your wishes for 2012?


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Some of my astute readers might have noticed that I initiated a massive life re-haul and personality shift this year. I have written a fair amount about being a people pleaser, developing a backbone, and being a perfectionist because these were things that were on my mind. I decided, somewhere in the haze of extreme tooth pain, that I needed to change, and I set about doing just that.

I’m still in the middle of it. It has already been completely worth it.

It is one of the hardest things I’ve done.

Here is what I have learned: You have to respect yourself. You have to believe that you are worth it. And you have to do whatever it takes to convince yourself you are worth it, even if it means muttering silly mantras to yourself and being glad you work at home so no one suspects you are crazy.

I have spent my entire life believing that if only I was good enough (oh, hey perfectionism), people would love me, respect me, and treat me well. I really wish this were the case, but I was flat-out wrong. The truth is, if you are willing to let something happen, the odds are that it will happen. If you are willing to tolerate being lied to, then people will lie to you. If you are willing to let people ignore you, then they will. If you don’t take a stand against bad behavior towards yourself, then that bad behavior will continue. The world doesn’t give you a voice, you have to demand it.

And in order to demand the respect you deserve, you have to give it to yourself first. You have to believe you are worth it.

Photo by Anita Hart

This self-respect is not the same as thinking you are perfect and infallible and can’t possibly make a mistake. Therein lies another problem (oh, hey narcissism). And it doesn’t preclude feeling compassion for people, even (and especially) the ones who are in the middle of making your life difficult.

What self-respect does give you is the ability to empower yourself. It gives you the choice of surrounding yourself with people who will lift you up instead of pulling you down. It gives you the chance to speak up. It gives you permission to refuse to take on every single problem as your own, when so many of them aren’t really yours at all. It gives you the strength to confront the parts of yourself that you don’t like. It gives you the space to say “No.”

No, I am not your bitch. But thanks for asking.

Remember that you are worth it. That is what I have learned this year.

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When I was entering the job market in my early twenties, I tried to be proactive and prepare for the inevitable interview process. The hypothetical question that all the articles told me I had to be ready for that freaked me out the most was the perennial: What is your greatest weakness? I still hate this question. I mean, there you are, trying your best to sell yourself in a high pressure situation and then you’re forced to talk about your less than ideal points? Plus, according to said interview advice, what you were really supposed to do was choose a “weakness” that you could spin as a positive, meaning that the entire exchange was just an elaborate test of whether or not you could bullshit effectively. Ugh. Anyhow, I chose perfectionism as my flaw, which was one of the examples used on the internet as a good choice. Because perfectionism (I thought) shows that you are actually very diligent, hardworking, detail oriented, and competent.

I never got asked that question in an interview.

Which is just as well, because after having spent years and years of my life as a recovering perfectionist, I can say with authority that the negatives far outweigh any positives. And if I had answered the way I’d planned to anyone with insight into human character, it might very well have cost me the job.

Nothing and no one living is always perfect. (Photo by jfh686 on flickr)

Not convinced? Let me draw your attention to some perfectionism highlights:

1. Freeze/block: Yes, perfectionism can cause things like writer’s block. I know because to this day it gives me trouble while I’m writing. Once a perfectionist realizes there is no way to get a given job done perfectly, it becomes oh so very difficult to do that job at all. At least, if we actually care about the job at all. The less we care, the easier it is to avoid the freeze.

2. Inefficiency: Unless the perfectionist’s target IS efficiency, of course. Because it’s so hard for us to leave something alone and actually call it done. If we just made another little tweak…or a hundred. If we only had time to start over. You’d better hope your perfectionist is feeling perfectionistic about deadlines, or it’s all over. (Happily, I am in fact a perfectionist about deadlines, so at least I get to finish, whether I like it or not.)

3. Stress: If you aren’t a perfectionist yourself, just imagine a world in which everything you are even tangentially involved with has to be perfect and go exactly as planned. And if it’s not perfect, you have failed and it is All. Your Fault. And if it doesn’t go as planned, then life is ruined. And if only you could be a little better, maybe all the problems in the universe would disappear. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Yeah, I’ll get right on that.

4. Obliviousness, otherwise known as self denigration: Because perfectionists hold ourselves to such impossible standards, we often fail to notice, or give ourselves appropriate credit for, the awesome things we may accomplish. We may not notice positive character traits, and if we do, we think they’re no big deal. If we achieve something big, we focus on what we didn’t achieve yet, something we failed at, or explain why it isn’t important: Well, but I’ve only made one pro sale. Well, but I’ve only sold one novel. Well, but I was only able to succeed at x because I failed so spectacularly at y. Well, but I’m not that intelligent because I don’t have a PhD/don’t have a deep understanding of quantum mechanics/don’t speak six different languages fluently.

So yes, all is not fun bright times in perfectionism world. While perfectionism does often create driven personalities who go on to achieve great things, I think there are ways of being driven and ambitious without being quite so hard on ourselves. One of my favorite parts of The West Wing was when President Bartlett had dealt with a problem, often less than perfectly, often when there were no good solutions or easy answers. He’d always turn right around and say, “What next?” What next allows us to focus on what we can do instead of dwelling on our inability to be perfect.

Any other perfectionists out there? Any strategies you use to help you work through it? Any aspects you find especially difficult? I’d love to hear from you.

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