Every time I sat down at the piano I wanted to write ‘Songbird’. Perfectionism does not work, for adults. The bright child can be perfect, sometimes: you can get 100% on that maths or grammar test, if you are intelligent, focused on it, and apply yourself. You get straight As on your report card, as if success is quantifiable and you have achieved it.
The focus is not yours. It has some value, as school success leads to good university courses, and a good degree can start on a good job, yet it is based on luck and birth, as comprehension tests reflect middle class values and what the middle classes speak of at home. (“Middle class” is another term which means different things in UK and US.) Many fail: my friend failed the 11+, then got a PhD. The reward is external. You will win praise for achieving others’ goals. You crave the praise, because it is a sign of acceptance you do not get otherwise. Some may find maths beautiful, but you learn it for pats on the head.
In work, perfectionism is possible for very few. It was the root of my procrastination. I would not do a task, because I imagined it perfect, achieving what I wanted to achieve, and then judged my actual performance as less, rather than seeing that what I could produce with the tools available was the best I could manage, and just doing it. So I lost my job.
Perfectionism is a fantasy, unrelated to what is possible. Rather than wanting a result linked to the actual work, I wanted to feel good about myself. Ashamed of who I am, I could only feel good about what I achieved, and when that seemed impossible I gave up. With a fantasy of an ideal self, focused on goals I was taught to value and consistent in the character I was taught was good, I could not accept the real, messy human being I was.
If you do something because you ought to, the parent who pats your head no longer exists, so you get nothing from it. What do you want? You, yourself, from your own desires and not others’. I do not clean my teeth because of the rules, it is just what everyone should do, but because it makes my mouth feel better. In listless depression, I might not do that, because it is so little improvement of such a bleak-seeming situation.
That musician who had great success stopped making music, even for herself. She was not good enough. Better to be the band that achieved fame, and then fell out of the charts but continued touring, in smaller and smaller venues. How much Love do you need from an audience? If it must always be more, you will fail. How much can you appreciate the beauty of the music simply for itself? I have not been playing the piano, out of perfectionism, an idea of something more than is possible. What is possible?
This human being pursues its desires where it sees possibilities. The desires and the perception are partly unconscious, and partly in conflict with conscious ideas. Having to make myself acceptable when I was never simply accepted, wanting that before any other want, made the burden of my tasks too great, so that I felt incapable, and gave up. That increased my shame.
Ideally I want An Answer at the end of this, but it is a blog post, a work in progress. I still face the question What do you want? In my depressed state, my answer is “Nothing that I feel I might achieve”.