B Is for Bad

To a raging perfectionist, not quite perfect is as good as failure.

By Bailey Apa

Picture this. You open up your report card as a little third grader, everything looks fine until you see the dreaded letter. It’s a B. To you, it feels like the end of the world. How could you let this happen? In your mind, A stands for “amazing” and “achievement,” but B stands for “bad.” That’s exactly what I thought as a third grader. I remember having a mental breakdown over that report card. My mom thought I was crazy. In her mind she must have been thinking, “Bailey, it’s just a third grade report card, you’re okay.” It was not okay, at least, that’s what I believed.

I am a raging perfectionist. I always have been, and I suspect that I am going to be for quite some time. If I am a human, which I am, I know I am not perfect. That’s the thing though, logically, I know that nobody is perfect, nor is perfection ever achievable, but emotionally, it’s a whole different story. I’ve always equated bad things in life with my doing something wrong or messing up. It’s not like I have to have my pencils perfectly aligned, but everything else is a constant mental battle. I try to remind myself that it’s okay to mess up or not get that A on a project, but I end up bullying myself if my grade is anything below an A.

Maybe my perfectionism stems from when I was younger. Shortly after my parents divorced, my dad got together with Teri. At first, it was great. We would go and get our nails done, and we would go shopping. I thought she was great. That lasted for about six months. She flipped a complete 180. What happened? Did I do something wrong? Every time I was there she and my dad would have screaming matches over the tiniest incidents. I mean, it was nothing I did, but in my mind, it was all my fault.

Whenever I was there they would fight, so I thought that I was the common denominator. For a while the arguments were only between them, but it soon turned on to me. More specifically, Teri would tell me horrible things about my dad in an attempt to have me pick sides. Her moods would change on a dime, so I never knew which side of her I was going to get. I believed that by being perfect that maybe I could stay on her good side. I was wrong, but it didn’t stop me.

I could have every right to blame my perfectionism on Teri, but maybe I was just born with it. I had a pretty good childhood. I don’t really remember much of my parents’ divorce because I think my parents wanted to preserve that blanket of oblivion that being a child had on me. I made many achievements and I was a proud student of the month on multiple occasions. To me, getting student of the month meant that I was doing everything right. I was doing elementary school perfectly. None of my parents have ever pressured me to be perfect by any means. They, of course, want me to try my best, but to me, if my best isn’t an A or some sort of a high achievement I am a bad person.

A very wise person once said to me, “What makes you different from everyone that you have to be perfect and not them?” Being my sarcastic self, I shook it off and concluded that I must be built differently. Of course I was joking, but that person did have a point. What makes me different from everyone else that I am the only one that has to be perfect? I don’t expect perfectionism from anyone else but myself. As I am sitting here, I am criticizing this essay down to its last period. Here is an insight into my mind at this very moment. This essay sucks. Is my introduction good? Is the reader still reading? What could I do better? Overall, I believe most of these are good questions when writing an essay, but it also correlates to my perfectionism. While it is good to pursue excellence, when do I draw the line for the sake of my mental health? Is having a mental breakdown over doing an assignment or project that I perceive as less than excellent really beneficial? Is there a healthy line I can draw where I go, this is the best I can do or give at the moment and that is enough?  

Last year in drawing class, Mr. Berg said don’t let perfection get in the way of good enough. I know in that instance he was talking about art, but I often find myself stressing out over something not being exactly how I envisioned it. As I said, maybe I could just be “built different” or just hardwired to be the way I am. I have spent my entire life trying to chase this idea of perfection. And, who am I kidding, I probably will keep on pursuing it. Even with that being said, there are those little moments where I step back and think of all the achievements I’ve made. I am a good singer, I have a 4.0 even with advanced classes (yes, this is me worshiping the A), I am a great friend, and I have gotten leads in plays. I may never know why I am so hard on myself or why I have perfectionistic tendencies, but I think that I have written an almost perfect essay (it’s trash). Okay, in all fairness, I am mostly joking.

Photo: Perfection by Maura on Flickr