Rotten with Perfection

Mrs. M, the Spawn, and I met with her guidance counselor to plan her courses for ninth grade next year. As I’ve mentioned before, students here essentially have to declare a major, although I get the impression that pragmatically, it’s observed more in the breach than in fulfillment. Well, the Spawn is going for a double in English and Performing Arts (which for no immediately comprehensible reason includes fine/graphic arts and creative writing), and appears to be on something akin to a traditional college-prep curriculum, so I’m OK with it. The fact that she’s exceptionally bright (we’re talking the extreme right end of the Bell Curve here) means that she should be able to handle it as much as she likes.

As it happens, she has to get 3-4 years of a foreign language in high school, and since the only available language in Mondoville is Spanish, it’s Hobson’s choice. The Spawn was peevish about this, saying that she didn’t feel she had done very well when she took the exploratory/beginner course in Spanish a year or two back. I reminded her she had pulled an A, and she replied, “But I didn’t meet my standards.”

And that brings me to something I see in myself that I fear for her — a perverse, neurotic perfectionism. In my case, it plays out as a fear of failure that either paralyzes or drives me into an affectation of disdain for whatever I suspect I might not be able to perform up to my standards. And while I know intellectually that nobody can be terrific at everything, I seem unable to incorporate that into my view of myself, and I’m constantly driven, for better or worse, by a sense that I’m not as good as I ought to be. When I succeed, I’m haunted by the sense that it’s on a second-rate level. When I fail, it’s confirmation of my own inadequacy.

It’s absurd — nobody is really Zontar the Enormous, and to flog oneself for not being Zontar is both futile and perhaps a manifestation of Pride as well. And if my Christianity has taught me anything, it should be that I can’t help falling short in myriad ways. As I said, I know this — intellectually. But in geekspeak terms, I can’t grok it.

I think this is an aspect of what Kenneth Burke meant in his Definition of Man by the phrase that titles this post, the notion that humanity is endowed with an entelechic drive. It’s this drive that forces us forward, I think, as we try to realize that imagined potentiality, but I think what I have may be more of an entelechic rage, and in some ways, it holds me back, both directly and in things like self-medicating with food, which in turn proves another imperfection. And so on.

I don’t know if I’m going to be able to let that go, and it scares me, but it really terrifies me that the Spawn may face that as well.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Education, Family, Why I Do What I Do. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Rotten with Perfection

  1. Kate P says:

    Wow, that sounds like an interesting school–how’s their library? 🙂

    I’m a lifelong recovering perfectionist, and I know I compete with myself and have expectations for myself that nobody else expects of me. On top of that, right now I’m having one of those “I can see where I want to be, only I can’t figure out how to get there” frustrations. I’ve seen depression described as “anger turned inward” and so I get where you’re coming from with figuring out what to do with that “rage,” if that’s what it is.

  2. Pingback: And In Other Movies I Haven’t Seen… | Professor Mondo

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