Here is something that you should know about me: I’m a perfectionist.
I mean, like, really, really a perfectionist. I am not one of those
Interviewer: “What is your biggest weakness?”
Interviewee: “I’m a perfectionist”
people. I am one of those perfectionists that their perfectionism actually cripples their productivity. I have gotten to the point where I can’t start on projects (including projects I am super passionate about) until I think about everything that can go wrong (or right) in the process of doing them. I attempt to write, or produce, something of substance only to stop a few words in worried about what my word choice could mean to the reader or if that word is secretly offensive. I waste hours researching things that are only tangentially involved in projects, just so that I better know how people will respond and react to my work. Then, I get tired (or stressed) and I can’t avoid taking a break. I distract, lose my train of thought, and start back at square one again, worrying my way back into a circle.
Of course, this method of dealing with projects is not something that I have developed overnight, so why am I bringing it up now?
Well, it is mostly because of my thesis. As you may or may not know, I am currently working my way through a graduate school program. I am about a year away from having a Master’s Degree, and so far it has been one of the worst experiences of my life (that is a story for another time). As part of my program, I must complete a Master’s thesis on a program of unique research. Because of my academic masochism, with one year left, I have only my thesis remaining. My coursework is finished and behind me, all I need to do is write, analyze, and write more.
This has been the case throughout the summer. This summer, I had no other academic task to perform, I just needed to write. Want to take a guess on what I didn’t do this summer? Yep, I didn’t write. Or, in my mind, I couldn’t write.
I kept trying to, but I kept coming up short. When I did get words onto the page, I would stop almost instantly worrying about what my supervisor would think of my writing or if my word choice was unintentionally offensive. I would have battles with myself over how strong my wording was or my use of cliched forms of writing. Then the really bad thoughts would come. I would tell myself that I should just be writing, I shouldn’t worry about anything like that yet. I should just being producing something!
Rather than taking this as the kick in the pants that I required to get out of this funk, it would just dig me deeper. I would yell at myself for not getting things done, and stress myself out to the point that I couldn’t avoid taking a break. During the break, the thoughts would continue though. I would think:
You’re playing a game!? Really!? You could be writing! WRRIITTINGG!!
You just wasted two hours. You know how much you could have written in two hours? Like 1000-2000 words. That’s 4-8 pages! That’s 1/4 of your introduction!
And, of course, because I was distracting myself from the task at hand, when I would eventually come back to it. (The scribbles and the blank pages) I would feel as though I was just starting again, from nothing. Lately this has been getting so bad that I have been avoiding other tasks solely because I know that I would yell at myself for not using the time more wisely. Worse still, these tasks aren’t even the going to the bar with friends tasks. No. The tasks that I have been avoiding have been the self-care tasks such as showering, taking out the garbage, or doing my dishes.
That’s right, I was basically sabotaging my own physical and emotional health because I felt that I could better use that time. Then, when I didn’t use that time for “better” things, I yelled at myself till I was depressed and unwilling to do self-care (or anything else, really). ( >_< ) It became a cycle.
To be clear, I am not just coming to the recognition that this was a cycle. I knew that I was in a cycle and that the cycle was definitely a bad cycle to be in. I was just somewhat unaware as to how far into the cycle I was. That didn’t hit me until I went out for dinner with a friend. I was treating her to sushi because she had recently left a truly toxic job (I knew, because I worked there too. Again, a story for another time), and during our dinner, I told my friend:
“I am to the point that even sitting down thinking about my thesis makes me feel like I should be doing better, I should be actually writing it.”
It was that moment that I realized how deep I was. This was no longer a small problem, it was a serious, serious issue. My standard course-corrections weren’t working; In fact, they were part of the chorus of thoughts continuing the cycle. Something needed to change.
So today I tasked myself with catching up on the chores that I have been neglecting: showering, sorting out the recycling, doing the laundry. I focused on the tasks in front of me and invasive thoughts about how I could be doing more or doing better were allowed in, but ignored. As I finished task after task, I started to feel better (after all, my environment and hygiene were getting better), and I started to feel more like writing. However, instead of forcing myself to sit down and write the perfect words of my thesis, I figured that I should write here first. Here words matter less. They aren’t a treatise of my education, research, or developed skills; they are my thoughts, my feelings, my experiences.
Here there are poorly phrased sentences and poorly worded paragraphs, but the words (and the meaning behind them can’t be invalidated). And while writing these words, I have been reminding myself what it is like to write, why I enjoy it so, and what can happen if I just let myself go. Maybe my thesis isn’t going to be this perfect piece of academic literature, but why should I care? I am not wanting to be an academic anyway.
So, maybe with these thoughts in mind, I can just sit down and let myself write. Allow my thoughts, experiences, and knowledge flow onto the page.
Or not, that’s okay too.