Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Meet the Gudanovs: Confessions of a Nit-picker

It's January, and, as I do every year, I have been reading fervent and encouraging blog posts focusing on the change we would all like to create in our lives. You know, that human impulse toward new beginnings, to remaking ourselves. I have tried to understand this phenomenon, the one usually accompanied by "new year's resolutions" but it's not something in my family culture. Instead, we--my birth family--always seem to be trying to make ourselves better.

I mean ALWAYS.

It's actually sort of a curse, if you think about it. In this world view, nothing is ever quite right, quite acceptable, so we keep trying to meet that Standard in the Sky. My husband's clan name for us is Notgudanov, and that about sums it up.

Oh, I don't mean that we are slackers or dolts. Actually, we are are a fairly intelligent and hard-working lot (ok, that's not modest, but it is important to understanding the issue). The expectations are actually enormous, coming from three generations of Ivy League educated professionals. No, that not good enough feeling--it's hardwired at birth in my family. And we spend the rest of our lives trying to master that one pesky emotion. The one that says we must do great things....except that we will never get it quite right.

Which can lead to a sort of paralysis, if you are following the logic of how this affliction unfolds. It can be hard to start something if it is obvious that others have done it better, or if the concept is too difficult to understand every nuance, or if there is insufficient time to do it perfectly.

Because "good enough" never entered the family vocabulary.

This is a pretty stressfully way to live. It involves surrounding myself with people who will reinforce my negative views. It involves taking on projects so large I will surely fail. It involves focusing on the ugly, awful, hard, unpleasant aspects of life to the exclusion of almost all else.

It makes me miserable.

As long as am being so intimate with you all as to share my dark side, I should really come clean: My name is Justine, and I am A Perfectionist.

When I looked perfectionist up, hoping to come up with a cute or quirky synonym, I realized that I was resorting to the same old tactic: substiting the fancy for the plain to try to look better, smarter, whatever. There is no better word. I am a fuss-budget, nit-picky, slightly obsessive, purist. (Note the Oxford comma ;/ I can't seem to get out of my own way.) I grew up being called many of the names on the list. I guess it was all part of the training program.

So here I am, a grown up fuss budget and I want to change. Yeah, I know, that's where I started this rant, with railing against my internal "not good enough" meter yelling at me to Change! As I see it today, though, there is healthy change (fixing a problem) and pathological change (trying to fix what is fine). The change I need is to recognize when nothing needs fixing.

I actually started this process some years ago, by fixing some huge problems I had created in my life (see above, the paragraph about reinforcing the negatives). I got out of an unhealthy marriage, returned to school, found my soul mate, addressed some health issues. I have found areas of study that compel me, despite my perfectionism. What I am left with is the nasty sticky emotion of not being good enough.

And that is what needs changing--because nothing is wrong except my perception. It is obviously broken, as broken as an anorexic's body image.

What does this have to do with you all, who come here for talk about food and politics and snippets of family life on a boat? In some ways, nothing. I will keep writing about all of that. But what I am trying to do is to stop feeling guilty when I don't write on a schedule. And I want to be able to talk about what's on my mind, even if it isn't perfectly on topic. I am a person, not an anonymous content creator, and I have so many interests and concerns and observations that I can hardly restrain myself from sharing them. But I do just that: I restrain myself, because I think I won't write the definitive post, or someone will unsubscribe, or I don't have the time to write it "right".

Which is all so dumb it makes me want to scream. It's tiring. And not at all productive (talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy!) So, I am actually going to create something that smells awfully like a new year's resolution. I am stating one goal for myself this year: I will speak, write, act with joy (rather than self censorship, fear, and negativity). That doesn't mean I won't have sad or angry feelings--those come with my chosen territory (did you see that CDC recommendation to curtail breastfeeding when vaccinating to make the vaccine "take" better? There is work to do...) It's the ridiculous standards that have to go, not the passion. Who knows, maybe I'll be even more outspoken!

Choosing to dismantle my perfectionism may be a long process with false starts and detours along the way, but I hope you stick it out with me. I am determined to fill my life with people who are supportive, and who are fascinated by similar issues--that's YOU! I am honored that you choose to read my words when I muster enough of them to press "publish" and I hope to grow to deserve your continued love and support. Thank you for being here.

Post Script: I am working on my thesis right now, so whatever writing I do for the next few months is sure to reflect that. I would love feedback as I go along, so please do come right to the blog and post your comments.
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