I have a big perfectionist inside me.
My first spelling quiz ever in the first grade is a powerful memory. I had studied very hard and did very well. But I misspelled one word: butterfly. I received 19/20 and I wanted a perfect grade. I wanted a perfect grade so badly that I just cried for the entire day in class, being upset with myself over my 19/20. My teacher feeling sorry for me, among other feelings I am sure, changed the grade from 19 to 20. I was static.
After my dad got home that night, I remember taking the notebook out to show him how I received a perfect grade. The desire to have the ‘perfect grade’ was so profound that I didn’t even care that although the number grade was changed on my paper, the incorrectly spelled word was still there on paper.
I remember my dad seeing the grade and my mistake and then perplexed asking me what had happened. So I told him. Very honestly and matter-of-factly I explained the situation: I made a mistake, I cried a lot, and then my teacher changed my grade. I don’t know how my dad suppressed his laughter because I chuckle now at telling the story.
My dad then begin speaking with me about the value of honesty and the ethics of being able to accept one’s mistakes when someone points them out to us. I believe it was a longer conversation but I don’t remember much of it. I just remember the next day, going to my teacher with a bit of guilt and asking her to revert the grade back to 19. She smiled and did.
A great lesson in honesty and accountability. But what puzzles me about that memory is why would a little girl have such an intense desire to receive a perfect grade?
The perfectionist part of me does some great things: it helps me write a great dissertation nominated for an award, it helps me to create great lessons and workshops, but my perfectionism also often makes me sad.
You know my previous post about My Neighbour Totoro…well…that is something from an old piece. An old, beloved project from years ago.
I started writing it out of my love for Studio Ghibli. I spent hours properly researching each movie, re-watching them and making notes from a perspective of an educator. I wanted to write a piece directed at parents so that they can show their children something other than Disney movies. I wanted to show another world where ordinary girls save themselves and help their friends, long before Elsa and Anna.
I wrote a 9-page single-space essay and never finished it for publication. I didn’t think it was good enough so I censored myself before even finishing the product.
I have tried to revisit the piece but its soul is no longer there, or perhaps I have lost my zeal for what I was writing. I censored myself and in that I robbed myself of possibilities. Maybe nothing would have come out of it anyway, but I do know of something that was lost for me, and that was the manifestation of much love and admiration for something.
I guess I was able to finally put some parts of it out here, but what I wrote a few blog posts ago is not the original piece. It is as though my perfectionism leads me to being haunted by the ghosts of those works that died without being realized, no matter how small they might have been and remained.
With every post an internal battle wages on for some hours. I sit there editing and re-reading, taking a break and coming back to the post again to catch mistakes. I sit there in front of my laptop forcing myself to press ‘Publish’. And every blog post is followed by ‘oh that sentence was a huge generalization’, ‘oh I should have put the word ‘often’ as to not make such a broad statement’, ‘I should have written that sentence better’.
Sometimes Anne Lamott comes to help and I remember her wise words: ‘Perfectionism is the tool of the oppressor’.