Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Perfection Hook

This post is not really about running although it directly impacts my experience of running, so I won't be offended if you decide to skip right over it. It is however decidedly personal, so please be gentle. This is something that keeps coming up in my life, most recently with the half marathon.  Rachel calls it the "Perfection Hook" and I can't seem to let myself off it.  I struggle with it at work, in the band, in my relationships, and with my upcoming graduate class.  MUST.BE.PERFECT.  There is no middle ground.  I either get an A or I'm a huge disappointment.  I either run well or it reflects badly on my worth as a person. I'm the best friend a girl could ever have or I'm an insensitive bitch. I know how crazy it sounds to completely exclude the middle ground. Yet it happens all the time and I never recognize it.  I start something, I'm remotely good at it, suddenly I must be the Master of it.  I try, maybe not as hard as I could, there is a bump in the road or I don't do as well as I want and BAM I fall to pieces.  Total annihilation. When it comes to other people in my life I like to think that I am supportive and will argue for their own middle ground until I'm blue in the face.  Why I hold myself to a higher standard is beyond me.

Here is a prime example from last week.  I was talking to Rachel about how hectic but exciting the end of June through the end of July is going to be for me.  I'll be working full time, in a gigging band, taking a grad class three nights a week, training for a marathon, and being someone's girlfriend.  Sure, it sounds like a lot but I'd love to prove to myself that just because I have fear about something doesn't mean that fear is a reason not to try.  I've missed out on too much in my life because I was afraid.  Now, all Rachel said was that she wasn't sure it sounded all that great for me and what I need for myself.  In that moment I was crestfallen. I felt I was right back to the square one of three months ago when I was convinced I couldn't handle it and what was I thinking to take any of it on. All she did was express her concern that I won't have time to take care of myself and I twisted it into a lack of confidence in me or a judgement on my decision.  My hands were shaking, I was so upset.

The reality was that I hadn't really moved on from those doubts of before, I'd just gotten a lot better at ignoring them.  And that is where the Perfection Hook really gets me.  You don't know you're stuck on it. If you have reached the acceptance of something, you're in great shape. Carry on. But I haven't learned to accept anything, I've simply mastered denial.  Acceptance of something means that I have limitations. Shortcomings. Fine, who doesn't?  But those words just scream "failure" to me.  And then I start to wonder why I'm taking up so much space on this planet.

The most frustrating part of it all, honestly, is not the fact that I am not perfect.  It is that no matter what I do in life I never actually give 100% so I'll never really know if I could be perfect at something.  Running is a prime example.  I have never given 100% to my training. If I were a good little runner like so many I follow online I would be posting my cross training, strength training, tempo runs and hill repeats on here. But no, there are a few weekly runs and then a lot of time perfecting the ass-print on my couch.  It gets me across the finish line but never taps into my full potential.  It isn't as though I don't have the time.  It has literally made me cry, this whatever it is that keeps me from giving 100% and knowing I've seen something through for a change. My life has become a spectator sport. Part of me thinks that not giving 100% lets me off the hook in the event that I do fail, since I wasn't really trying in the first place. But by and large, things seem to come together for me in the end.  The stars align and I pass my test, get a good review at work, and finish a race with time to spare. My sister would call that the spoiled brat in me, and I get it.  I wouldn't call it luck, but it is something.  Not that I have it easy or that I don't have to try.  I just have a tendency to be rewarded for mediocre efforts.

Somehow, despite this desire to be perfect (which somehow equates to everyone liking me and being worthwhile as a human being), all I manage to do is phone it in. If they gave out As for showing up, I'd be in Mensa by now.  But showing up is just the beginning. Living life just by "showing up" is a crutch. Accomplishing anything worthwhile involves a degree of sacrifice and suffering.  How else would you know the end result was worth it when you got there?  I know I have the potential for more. I've had runs that showed me I was more than a 10 minute mile.  I'm talking to you, freakish sub-8 split.  I'm scared to want it.  To have to own it.  Accepting the glory is no problem, but accepting the failure that could just as easily happen?  I can't risk it.  I can't stop myself from believing that going all in on somethings means ALL OF ME.

*crickets*  Anyone?


  1. You are a great person! We all have faults, if I put 100% into everything, I'd have kids by now and be the most loved teacher in school. I don't and know it, which is frustrating. I think about it all the time, but still can't get motivated to do anything about it. Must run in the family. Love you!!

  2. This was a seriously powerful post. I am so glad you hit "publish." When I read your comment that you were thinking about not publishing it I was pretty sad...the posts that I love to read are always the ones that are the most genuine...because I can relate to them the most. They are JUST REAL. And that is exactly what this post is.

    I have learned in my running journey that I truly am my own worst enemy. I start to blame other factors like the course, the weather, life, etc...but really I can be as good as I want to or love it as much as I want to...I just get held back by ME. That was a tough realization to have and I only had it recently so it is still settling in.

    Perfection is hard to combat because most of us strive for it and it is tough to fall short. But I like thinking that there could be a balance and that having a balance is okay. I am still working toward this of course and it may be a lifelong journey but I am glad to have realized its importance.

    Amazing post...thanks for sharing :)

  3. Wow... I just discovered your blog by this post, and all I can say is that I quickly had tears in my eyes... I'm exactly the same perfection-obsessed person, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously. Your words seem to come from my head, it's incredible. But I don't agree when you say that you've never accepted it and just become better in denial. I don't know you, but obviously, you're totally aware of this functioning, and that is a big part of acceptance. If you completely denied it, I don't think you would have written a post like this, so sincerely and so honestly. You're a great person to be able to "show" this to all of your readers, and with time, I'm sure you'll get more and more freedom and laugh of this side of who you are. We can't erase the chase of perfection off our behaviour, but step by step, by facing it, being patient with ourselves, accepting it and finally, laugh about it, it will reduce to a funny part of who we are.
    Thanks A LOT for this post. It moved me like no other did!