Perfectionism & the lie I have told you all

Confession time: I failed with my writing challenge on day 2. June 2nd was an unusually full-on day - between a conference, pub trip and party I only sat down to write something after midnight. It’s fair to say my writing juices weren’t flowing at that hour. No big deal, I said to myself, I’ll double post on the 3rd.

I didn’t post at all on 3rd. That unusually full-on Sunday sapped my energy for an unusually quiet Monday. The post limped out on the 4th.

I didn’t feel too bad about my failure to stick to my challenge. Not because I have a healthy relationship with goals, and making mistakes, and letting go. Oh no, far from it. I didn’t feel too bad as I had discovered that this website allows me to set the date which appears on the post. I could post on the 4th, but history would mark that I had posted on the 2nd. I haven’t told many people that I had set myself this challenge - of writing a new post every day in June - so my embarrassing failure to follow through on day 2 was not being watched, and could go undetected with this date trick.

Give me an inch and I’ll take a mile. I was out and about all of the next day (5th). There were a few small windows in which I thought I could squeeze something out, but realistically it wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t need to berate myself though - the date trick would still be there for me when I got to the next post. June 3rd’ ended up being June 9th, June 4th’ was this morning, June 10th.

There’s clearly a problem here of catching up. By the time I got to June 5th, I needed 3 posts by the end of the day to catch up. Come June 9th, I was a week behind. I sketched out in my head how I would catch up - 2 posts today, 3 tomorrow, etc. Suddenly, I had created a far more intimidating task than the daily writing challenge that is was meant to be. Intimidation begets inaction, the backlog piled up, and the pressure I put on myself built. This is no way for me to build a positive association with writing.

There’s another problem, of not honouring what this challenge was meant to achieve. I wrote in the post introducing it that I wanted, for once, to follow through on something I wanted to do, to make myself believe I could make myself do something, to not let the idea of errors or bad writing get in the way. Even if I just had a few minutes, I said, I’d write something and upload it. To be honest, this has felt like far too distant a prospect to be realistic, and time and time again I have thought to myself I won’t have time in that half hour to write anything good”. To be honest, I quite like the idea of future me passing off fairly polished pieces, which took many hours, as something I rustled up in the crazy daily writing challenge I did. To be honest, I was still eyeing up 30 flawless posts from this whole thing.

But I think the worst problem is that I couldn’t face the fact that I failed, and lied to try to cover it up. The lie in itself is fairly inconsequential, but it masks a failure instead of trying to understand it and learn from it. It tells the world that I delivered on my challenge when I didn’t. I keep up the facade of success. As a result, next time I set myself a challenge, I’ll feel the pressure to continue to keep up the facade.

I’m a well-practiced perfectionist, obsessed with getting stuff right or at least appearing to get stuff right. I pride myself on an apparently spotless record. The date trick came so naturally and thoughtlessly to me, I almost didn’t spot myself doing it.

Well, this is me staging an intervention on myself. It’s self-sabotage. Falling behind and not accepting it means the writing starts to stress me out. Pretending I’m keeping up, not accepting the fact that I’m not, while deep down knowing I’m pretending: this all feeds into my belief that I can’t follow through on my intentions. Using a trick to appear like I’m succeeding stops me learning and progressing. Holding together the pretence and reality is exhausting, limiting (I’ve barely told anyone I’m doing this yet, as self-protection) and often needs further lies down the line.

In that spirit, it’s full confession time. I started plotting this post days ago, as my backlog of posts grew. I would reveal my trick, dig into it for insight and use it as a vignette for how my perfectionism meets my mistakes. But I still liked the idea of 30 posts, one for each day of the month, supposedly released on each day of the month. Letting go of that image is difficult; I don’t need to. So, even as I started to write this out this evening, I planned to post it from June 5th’. I’m glad that writing this out has persuaded me otherwise.

Happy June 10th.

June 10, 2024