Tuesday, July 1, 2008

“You probably wouldn’t worry so much what people think of you if you knew how seldom they do.” Olin Miller

I was helping my husband go through some old clothes to find good donations yesterday, and we were just talking and folding and all of a sudden I said (though I can’t remember why, or what prompted me), “Welcome to my life. All day, everyday, I am thinking I could be doing better or that I’m going to be found out as a fraud. I never make a decision without thinking there was so much more I could have done or that I could have done it all in a better, more efficient way.” He looked at me with the same blank stare I’ve seen before, like when I casually asked him in the car one day, “Do you ever just find yourself thinking 10 different things at the exact same moment?” His answer? A mildly incredulous and painfully simple “No.” Once again, his reaction to me was a mirror in which I see myself as the ridiculously unconfident person I am.

How boring and tedious I must be.

In my recent fiction workshop, I brought each draft to class begrudgingly. I felt like I was presenting, to a field of my peers, a worn and tattered blanket of words and images carelessly stitched together to fulfill a requirement, instead of with the love and attention they rightfully deserved. Each time, when the drafts came back and the class discussed a piece I’d written, the mirror was there. Held in front of me as evidence of my personal irony. People responded and related to what I had written. People praised me in ways both general and specific. People saw me as a writer.

After the first workshop class, I slid away from campus, my face burning bright from shame. Why can’t I believe that anything I do is good, or worth reading? It’s not false modesty. I hate false modesty. I decided that day that I have a character flaw. There is no other explanation. My parents were two amazingly supportive, challenging people who, though they expected excellence from us, did everything to encourage and support us in achieving it. And they put value on our effort when the results weren’t always stellar. They were/are great parents. It can’t be a result of pressure from them.

What is the genesis of my perfectionism, then? My lack of confidence? I simply don’t know. I’ve lived 28 years faking it – as I do daily at my job, in my home, with my friends. Maybe the real me is a hybrid of the fake me and the frail me. Maybe that pretend confidence isn’t exactly manufactured. But my wish, always, is to have a real sense of who I am and what I can do. Part of being real with myself is recognizing and owning up to my weaknesses, and working to change the things I need to change. But I truly believe that the other side of that very heavy coin is to recognize and own up to my strengths. To the things I’m good at doing. To the goodness and gifts I’ve been given. To stop cowering from challenges when my confidence is shaky. To give the good away. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

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