Wednesday, June 13, 2012

June challenge 13: Perfect.

My perfectionism is infamous. I've been seeing the same psychologist (off and on) since 1999 and he's told me that he uses me as an example of perfectionism when he's teaching. One of the stories is when I did my final exams at Cambridge for my undergrad degree. Overall, I got a first, which meant that I achieved a double first as the grade for my degree, which is the highest possible grade. However, all I could focus on was the one exam where I had not achieved a first. The mark for that paper was the lowest in all of the exams I did as an undergrad; obviously, it didn't affect my result. However, even now (7 years later), I feel bad even writing about the results of the exam. Logically I know that it's nothing to be ashamed of... it was a mark within the 2.i boundary...blah blah. However, my perfectionism stops me from being happy about my degree result because of the one paper in which I failed to meet my expectations.

This psychologist is pretty perfectionist himself (he admits to once asking his 9 year old son 'What did you get wrong?' when he got 19/20 on a test.... then remembered that, psychologically speaking, it would have been more preferable to first of all say 'Well done'...); in and of itself, it doesn't have to negatively impact on someone's life. I think my perfectionism is one of the reasons why I've been able to achieve academically and it's currently enabling me to work, part-time, as a proofreader.

But the perfectionism intertwines itself with the anorexia. If I am at a point in life where I feel unsure or insecure of my self (I don't know who I am or consider myself to be pointless or worthless) the temptation is to set myself standards in terms of food, weight or shape and then pressurise myself to meet those standards. Of course, the nature of anorexia is to keep shifting where the standards lie and once the standards become too extreme, the spiral can only be downwards.

Since it's clear that sometimes it's ok to demand high standards of myself, in terms of work or even in hobbies like my knitting, I've been working on identifying where it doesn't have to be perfect. That might just be using a different spoon to eat cereal or choosing another mug to have my coffee in. It's easier to make those choices myself because otherwise life becomes a big mass of anxiety about when things aren't right or I can't control them.

Instead of spending a lot of time worrying about the perfect way to end this post and the perfect segue from the previous paragraph, I'll simply finish with the advice my maths teacher gave me before the GCSE maths exam: "Linda, you mustn't come out of the exam and get depressed if you realise you've done something wrong. The examiners only have 2 digit boxes to write the mark in, so even if a student got 100%, it would only be recorded as 99. The examiners aren't expecting perfection so you mustn't expect it of yourself".


Unknown said...

You bring up a great point - that we focus on what we didn't do well or what we lack, instead of what DID go well and what we HAVE. Now, the question is, how do we shift that perspective?!

Cheryl said...

Love those wise words from your former teacher x

Jenn said...

this is still a struggle for me. but i like what you wrote in this post and it has given me a lot to think about and try to apply in my own life... thanks ; )

Jenn said...

this is still a struggle for me. but i like what you wrote in this post and it has given me a lot to think about and try to apply in my own life... thanks ; )