I am a perfectionist. It's bad. I will edit a piece until it is free of all typos, sentence fragments, poor word choice, all of it. It holds me back creatively because the rejection fuels the blue fire that is my mental disorder. Which sucks since writing, performing, making things fills me with joy. While I don't want to pull an Emily Dickinson and hide my work from the world, I'm also obsessed with it being perfect and likeable. And being rejected feels like the worst possible thing that could ever happen.
Scratch that. Being rejected is not the worst possible thing that could ever happen. It feels like the worst possible thing that could happen. It’s the feeling part that really throws me for a loop.
Embarrassing Truth #1: I have written two possible posts before this one. It's not that they were bad. A few tweaks here and there and they would be ready to go. But I didn't feel satisfied by them. Especially after writing "Four Reasons I’m Open about My Depression and Anxiety," which I consider one of my most authentic pieces at this point.
The new essays I wrote weren't enough of something. They weren't funny enough. They weren't serious enough. They weren't politically correct or incorrect enough. I've brainstormed, called upon writing friends for topics, wrote promising outlines, threw away promising outlines. My pre-planning of a post has turned into me scrambling for something, anything to write about.
This is a lot of pressure I put on myself for a blog post!
You know what doesn't care? My dumb, old, irrational lizard brain.
LIZARD BRAIN: Oof, these posts aren’t as good as the last one.
ME: Oh god, you’re right. Do over?
LIZARD BRAIN: Do over! (Whispers to self) Forever...
Embarrassing Truth #2: I used to go home after Level 1 classes bawling. If I got a bad note, or worse, if I got the same negative note over and over again despite what I tried to change, I would be weeping. There were two nights where I cried myself to sleep over a critique. You know who revelled in that? I think you know who.
INSTRUCTOR: I feel like I didn't know what your relationship to you scene partner was.
LIZARD BRAIN: You're the worst improviser in the world, and everyone knows you didn't shower today!
ME: (to Brain, crying) YOU'RE RIGHT! I KNEW IT! WHY AM I EVEN DOING THIS?
Now I'm a Level 5 improv student, my graduation is a few weeks away. The repeated exposure to notes after class makes me feel better about criticism. My anxiety lessens even though it is still present.
LIZARD BRAIN: You're the worst—
ME: Not now, I'm getting notes.
LIZARD BRAIN: Oh... b-but this is the time when I—
ME: Whatever you're going to say will have to wait.
LIZARD BRAIN: Did you see that guy grimace over there? It's because he knows you wore that shirt to bed last night and didn't bother to change it for work.
Embarrassing Truth #3. It's not always clear skies. There was one note about a Ewing run that had me stuck in my head for weeks. And it was a positive comment. My immediate reaction was to search Google for a formula about how to be the perfect performer.
ME: (yelling at my laptop) How do I do that again? I wondered. What did I do during that scene? Where was the point where I let go? TELL ME YOUR SECRETS, IMPROV-TERNET!
LIZARD BRAIN: You’ll never find anything and you’ll live an unfulfilled life!
ME: (sobbing) Nooooooooo!
LIZARD BRAIN: Yay, you’re listening to me again!
After losing hours of sleep, I have since talked to others about said comment. I found comfort in their assurance that they don't know either. “What am I doing right? What am I doing wrong?”
Look, there may be some scientific formula for the perfect improviser or the perfect comedian. However, I am no scientist. I can't even do math without a calculator, and even then I enter the wrong numbers. I just anthropomorphized my Lizard Brain when I know it’s just my thoughts being amplified by hormones and biological chemicals. Would you trust my research?
And if attempting to figure it out on my own causes this much stress, I don't think I want to know the answer. Then there would be standards I'd have to meet. Knowing that perfection is possible? That’s the worst sort of knowledge for a perfectionist to have.
I know I'm not perfect. It pisses me off that I'm not. However, it's probably best for my sanity if I don't strive for it.
Quick note: Thank you, everyone, who commented or emailed me in regards to "Four Reasons I’m Open about My Depression and Anxiety!" I’ve never been more moved or grateful. A big Internet hug for all of you.
How do you deal with perfectionism? Does performing improv help with this? What methods do you use to keep your anxious perfectionist sensibilities at bay? Do you anthropomorphize your Lizard Brain—maybe it’s your Inner Critic, or Statler and Waldorf from The Muppet Show?
KC Ryan is currently a Level 5 student at DCH. An office worker by day, she spends her nights writing, improvising, recording podcasts, and having existential crises. She’s a co-host of Parsec Award-nominated podcast Anomaly Supplemental about general sci-fi and fantasy topics. Her greatest achievement so far is convincing her husband to watch Project Runway.