‘I’m a bit of a perfectionist’, have you said that about yourself? Have you heard someone else say it? Vonny Leclerc, has written about the negative effect that her perfectionism had on her life.
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Vonny Leclerc wrote in The National (30th July, 2018) about the effect perfectionism has had on her life.
WHEN I was 16, I got the grades to go and study law a year earlier than my peers. When the piece of paper arrived confirming my efforts had been rewarded, that I’d be going to university a few weeks after my 17th birthday, I was ambivalent. I should have been elated. Relieved even. But I was already thinking about what I’d need to do now to get a first. I yanked the bar so high for myself so quickly that I lost all perspective.
I’d given no consideration to getting to know people and no thought to getting to know a new city or what I could get out of university other than my academic fix. It may come as no surprise, and perhaps with a little schadenfreude, to learn how completely and utterly pear-shaped this plan went. I was wholly unprepared for this next, independent chapter of my life.
I didn’t like the city. I didn’t know how to be one of many in a room full of the best students. My sense of identity, which was/is wrapped up in my achievements, disappeared. I hated the course, I didn’t make time for friendships, I agonised over getting things exactly right in my coursework to the point I would second guess everything I wrote, and – predictably with my need for control – my eating disorder showed up again.
I wanted everything to be perfect, and it wasn’t even close. There were many good things, but I couldn’t see them because everything other than a gold-star experience was pointless and meaningless. I didn’t have the skills to deal with my situation, no teachers to coach me, or family to rely on for advice. A total mental implosion followed. I was advised to take a year out to get well.
Rather than face what would be tantamount to personal failure, I quit my degree and left the city. My relationship fell apart, I stopped talking to my new friends, and sealed the experience away. For a decade, I couldn’t go back without feeling haunted by that shame. The fear of looking stupid, of not being the very best, of saying the wrong thing, has shaped my life. Rather than taking the opportunities that have come from hard work, I’ve turned them down because of the risk of failure, of not doing a perfect job.
I’m not alone in this. Some of the greatest novels ever written have gone to landfill, theories that would leapfrog us into the future have languished in drawers, dismissed by their creators. Henry Darger’s pictures never had a viewer. Monet shredded his watercolours.
This is the difference between private and public self: I’ve spent years critiquing binaries that harm groups, but my view of myself has always been binate all-or-nothing thinking. It’s been selectively biased toward the negative, swimming in “shoulds”, “musts” and “can’ts, meaning that’s all I’ve ever been able to see. If it wasn’t an A, it was an F. If it wasn’t spotless, it was filthy. If I didn’t win, there was no point in taking part.
Feeling like a failure is psychic death. The need for absolute perfection, to be the best, to be recognised as highly competent, has shaped almost all of my decisions, and it’s closed more doors than it has opened.