Tuesday, February 12, 2019

I love this depiction of one of the stations of the cross, hanging in the hospital chapel in Nairobi. The stories in this one painting are captivating. 

I wish I would have planned some sort of outing this past weekend. Remember? I made a promise to myself at the outset of my adventure— I would escape the confines of my secluded compound and take in as much of Africa as possible. However, since midterms are next week, (hard to believe I am at the half-way mark!), and essays need to be written, along with the fact that Monday is the due date for my final senior project if I want to graduate in May, my over achieving, perfectionist self would not allow time for fun this weekend.

Perfectionism—A blessing and a curse, to be sure. I could spend hours discussing the pathological drive that undergirds my driven personality, but that would be boring to most, so I will give you a synopsis of what I have been thinking lately.  I would love to talk more about this issue with someone—compare notes, as a sort of group therapy kind of exercise. We would need wine for this therapy—and a healthy amount of trust, if we were to travel this road together!

A perfectionist. Who is mandating this perfection? The obvious answer is, of course, me—but I was not born a perfectionist. What happened along the way?  Fellow perfectionists, is there someone living on your shoulder, or occupying some part of your brain space, who is continuously critiquing every endeavor you undertake? And of course, every endeavor you take is...just... not... quite... good... enough.

Where is the inertia grounded that resists calling perfectionism a futile attribute? More to the point, what is the behemoth that paralyzes my ability to reconfigure the old mantra demanding perfectionism inculcated in my psyche? You know, the one that screams and cajoles, whip in hand, constantly reminding me that high achievement translates to "you are a successful person," which correlates to "making more money," which correlates to "being even more successful;"  therefore, by god..."achieve more!"  It's a hamster wheel, no matter which way I turn.

To understand my pathological mindset of what it means to live a successful life, you must step with me for a moment into my family of origin. Perfectionism abounds. If you put my siblings and I in a room together, you would have more brainiacs with multiple degrees than a lot of families. We are like rabbits producing more and more, until we are too old to keep producing.  I have to ask, but then what? Are we destined to sit  in our rocking chairs, staring at the diplomas and the awards on our wall, proclaiming, "I have lived a successful life?"

I have come to realize, perfectionism is an exhausting and alienating trait; not to mention down right obnoxious if you are stuck at a dinner party with a group of perfectionists. God bless those who patiently sat through a cocktail hour while my father proudly waxed on and on through the litany of his children's unremitting pursuits and accomplishments.

Yet, as much energy as each of us has spent over-achieving, we have never been able to cultivate the ability to just "be" with one another; to accept one another. We spend so much of our time in our heads, in our own boxes—alienating families—aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and even ourselves from one another. We befriend people who have the same ideologies, thinking exactly as we do, casting those who think differently aside with an air of indignation. Unfortunately, on those very few occasions we have gathered together, conversations exist inside a rumbling tremor of one-upmanship; and the familiar undercurrent of simmering anger inevitably boils over into a full blown battle of words—rapidly digressing into a mania of direct assaults against the  personhood of the other, with words that can never be taken back.

But damn we are smart!

The voice demanding perfection in my life is the voice of my family; a perfection that is unachievable. I have come to the conclusion that sometimes, the only way to reconfigure a pathological mantra, is to cut the ties that bind.

What is family?

Is it possible that the most successful people are not the perfectionist in this world? Could it be possible that the most successful people are those who know how to give and receive love? Those who know how to attentively reside in joy? Those who believe that winning is not as important as acceptance and respect for all of humanity?

One day, I hope to be able to say, "My life is successful because I loved, experienced joy, and reveled in the joy of others."

I am a work in progress.

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