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Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

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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I was all ready to pound out another rant today, when my little dog began to snore. She’s sleeping in her bed right next to where I’m sitting, lying on her side with her legs all stretched out, and she’s making the most adorable little snorey snuffle noises. Watching her sleep makes me want to write about something happy instead, because how can I fail to be happy listening to such a cute dog’s satisfied little sleep grunts?

Oh so sleepy.

Yes, I know. My dog is cute, and the blog suffers as a result. But hopefully the reason you’re reading in the first place is because you’re like me and you don’t need constant controversy all the time. After all, it’s not only controversy that is interesting–is it? (Blogging experts everywhere are now vehemently disagreeing with me.)

Oh, I feel a list coming on. A “What’s Interesting to Amy” sort of list. Because really, isn’t that the best kind?

1. Psychology, or Why Individual Humans Behave the Way They Do: This never fails to fascinate me. For instance, today in my blog feed, I found out about 13 types of worriers; last week I learned about 7 common defense mechanisms (well, it might have been 8, but I can’t find it now, so I have no idea). This also feeds into my interest in cognitive science.

2. Sociology, or What Humans Do When They Get Together in Groups: Yeah, I’m interested in people, what can I say? For instance, I read this article (I can’t find it, but here’s another one about a similar topic) about a study in which it was shown that a group of people who think they are in competition with another group for the same resources is likely to give that other group negative qualities and characteristics, even if they know absolutely nothing about that other group. How interesting is that?

3. History, or What Humans Did in the Past: People say that history is important so that we won’t repeat the mistakes of the past. I don’t know about this because it seems to me that we do, in fact, repeat the same mistakes sometimes. I think history is interesting because it tells us the story of where we come from (and there are many versions of the same story, some of which have been lost over time) and show us what is possible in terms of human existence and human behavior. We see both the best and the worst of humanity through study of our history, and every shade of gray in between.

4. Science Fiction, or What Humans Might Do in the Future: I guess technically this is called futurism, but science fiction comes close enough for me. I love wondering what the world will be like in fifty years, or a hundred years, or two hundred years. I love guessing what societies might develop, and what aspects of them might be unthinkably bizarre to us now. I’m grateful I’m an optimist because otherwise I’d probably find this more depressing than interesting, but as it is, I can’t wait to find out if we figure out how to cause humans to regrow their teeth in my lifetime.

5. Chocolate: Yes, chocolate is very interesting indeed, only to be trumped by chocolate ice cream. Excuse me for a minute, won’t you?

Your turn! What’s interesting to you? What subjects do you find endlessly fascinating? Where do you turn when you want brain candy?

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