My husband gave me a piece of advice yesterday that had the uncomfortable ring of truth to it. I was giving him a hard time about how successful his blog has been, and how many hits a day he gets (Needless to say, it’s a lot more than me).
“You need to stop measuring yourself,” he said.
I froze as I tried to work out exactly what he meant. Measuring myself? I began counting up the ways that I measure myself, the yardsticks that I use to judge my worth.
And he’s right. Sometimes I measure myself in pounds. Dress size. GPA. Blog hits. Calories. Word count. Page count. Minutes spent exercising. I know I’m forgetting a few.
And what would I do if I stopped keeping count of the ways I’m inadequate? What if I just loved and accepted myself for where I’m at. Would I stop growing as a person? Would I lose my edge?
Or would I gain an edge? Would I then have the freedom to leap off a cliff into failure? Freedom to make mistakes and suck horribly while I learn and get better? Would it be a good thing, or a bad thing?
In a world of trophies for every little league game, I think sometimes we celebrate mediocrity. But I also think that some children have a lot of pressure put on them to be the very best at everything. I had the misfortune to be one of those children. I was a good test taker, and so every test I took told me that I was in the top five or ten percent of the state or the nation. I got As. If it looked like I might not get an A, I worked myself into a lather to make sure that perceived failure wouldn’t happen.
And so I succeeded. I got great grades, I was polite, I was smart, I was quiet. If I played my cards right, I could both be the very best and blend into the background so I never had to deal with the teasing that a braver child might have received. But I never once had someone tell me that it would be ok, that I would still be loved, if I didn’t do something perfectly.
There is no way that I’m going to learn to be a great novelist if I don’t have the room to fail. Because writing is a craft, and it’s one that very few people start out very good at. Even the best writers I know write shitty first drafts, and their first few novel-length attempts were so horrific I shudder when I think about them. So I’m not outside of the learning curve here–but I feel like it. Every novel I read is telling me what the end product should look like–and how very far I am from having publishable material.
So I need to keep writing. And writing. And writing. And reflecting. And rewriting. And writing some more.
But do I need to stop measuring myself? I don’t think any of the type A people I know, NYT bestsellers included, never keep track of their progress. But maybe I need to cut myself some slack. Or at least, keep going in spite of the great burden of perfectionism I seem cursed to drag behind me like a ball and chain. I love the phrase “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” Maybe I should apply it more in my writing life.