On paralysis and vulnerability

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So, I was talking to a friend yesterday  (This blog was started in April, so, not yesterday now, actually, it was bloody ages ago) about deciding “what is next” and it led to this revelation about how I know that I struggle to start things because I hold such high expectations for myself… Those expectations are offset by the secret or hidden belief that I either achieve at a high level or fail entirely.  There is no credit given for high achievement, because that is a minimum standard below which sits complete and utterly devastating failure.

This combination of high expectations of personal achievement with incredible levels of self criticism results in a state of near paralysis when it comes to starting something new, or doing something different.  My expectation, when interviewing for a job, is that I will get it…. or be laughed out of the building.  If I am handing in a paper it will get an A… or a D.  Meeting new people?  they will love me! Or, possibly wonder why the hell anyone thought bringing me along was a good idea….

So, if I am facing doing something new I will agonize over which of those likely outcomes is the likely one.  It inspires me, sometimes, to greatness.. or at least, what other people view as greatness.  I personally can show you all the minuscule failings that you failed to observe at first glance.  So, for example, if I make a cake, like, these.

You might say “Oh my goodness, what an amazing cake, I cannot believe you made that for me thank you” and I will say, “It was no problem, It’s not rocket science” and I will think “The lettering looks like it was done by a 4 year old, and the ribbon is skwiffy.  Also, that caramel sauce was not quite caramelly enough… I should’ve cooked it a little bit longer, so it didn’t look so insipid”.  I will do this no matter how much you genuinely love the cake I made you.  I will feel slightly sorry for you that you had to receive an inferior cake.

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The thing that happens next is paralysis.  I am stuck, between a rock and a hard place. If something is really important to me, or necessary to my life plan, then I will almost always struggle to start it, because the paralysis of knowing that no matter how I try I cannot make it as good as it needs to be, and that if it isn’t perfect it will likely fail entirely is too much to handle.  This means that I can have a super clear picture of what I want to do/have/be/say, and no way of actually doing it. Then I will feel bad that I am not doing the thing which clearly needs to be done.

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The conversation I had with my friend was one where I was pointing out to her all the ways in which she IS ready for this step that she wants to take.  That there are all sorts of little steps on the path which will make what appears to be a giant step into just a normal walk.  And she completely turned the tables on me, and pointed out that I am a great big hunk of hypocrite. Which is true, but I do not care, I was still right about her being awesome.

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All of this makes me sound like I am crawl up my own ass smug, and I get that.  I know I sound like “Oh, poor me, I have to be the best at things or I feel bad.  Wah wah wah”. I get it.  Right now, you are, like, totally over this whine.

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But, the thing is, I am honestly not trying to be a dick.  I got stuck writing this post, because I felt like a I sounded like a dick. Two weeks later,  My friend Dee wrote this piece on imposter syndrome.  Which, frankly, pretty much sums up my, and many other peoples, issue. So I had to come back to it.  I have never had a post take me so long to write.    But, I was determined.  It would be written.  It would be good!  And oh, look, here I am, back in perfectionist world.

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This is the guts of it, guys.  On the surface, it looks and sounds like perfectionism.  But, it feels like this.

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I want to do the thing.  I want to do the thing WELL.  But I feel like I am fumbling around in the dark, covered in a sheet, with no idea which way is up.

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It is suffocating.  It is paralysis.  It is fear.  It is hope.  It is failure.  It is success.  It is all of those things, all at once, and it is terrifying.

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So.  The thing that I have to do isn’t the problem.  The problem is my expectations of what that will look like, and my false belief that my success or failures even matter in the grand scheme of a world much bigger than anything I will do in a day or a year or a lifetime. Why am I thinking about all this?  Well, first off, I have an assignment due soon, and therefore had to procrastinate, as we are all already used to.  But.  More importantly.  I know I am not alone in this approach to self flagellation.  I know that my very best friends are just as bad as me.  So I thought, maybe, if I share this honest truth about what happens inside my head, somebody else may find the strength to overcome their fear and do the next big scary thing anyway.

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I know I am going to.  I am going to do a big scary thing soon, and I am going to do it as well as I can, and try as hard as I can not to beat the shit out of myself when I fail some days, and try to celebrate the bits where I achieve something before switching the goal posts and making a new goal that is even more likely to fail.  I am breaking out of the paralysis.  I am probably not lowering my expectations, because, fuck it, being the best I can be is a good plan, right?  Wish me luck, people.  I feel like I am gonna need it.

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Marilyn never said this, btw.

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