Thursday, January 3, 2013

My Character Paradox

I want to explain something today. You may have noticed that my page title is called my Journal. Not my blog, my thoughts on life, or anything else that implies that I'm trying to broadcast my words to the world. To tell the truth, this is mostly for my own benefit.

I've always felt a little passionate about my writing, I just never did it much. I'm the same way with music. I grew up learning to sing an play piano, eventually took on percussion instruments in the school band, and even studied music for a year in college. But unless I had something to practice for (or sometimes when I had practiced enough that I thought I sounded good), I rarely used my free time to make music. I loved making good music, I just never felt like my music was good enough. I had to practice a piece for sometimes an hour or more a day, for weeks on end, before I felt like it was any good. And the longer I practiced the same piece, the more I noticed the little errors in my performances.

It was a vicious cycle, and the window into a strange mix between a good and bad side to my character. The good being my drive for perfection. Things are rarely “good enough” for me. Either I gave it a good effort and produced a near-perfect result, or I skimmed through it and wasn't proud of how it turned out. This pushes me to do work that impresses my boss, give gifts that get the receiver excited, or help people in need to the point that they'll remember it for years to come

The bad? If I can't do a great job at something, I can hardly muster the desire to work on it at all. This is why I don't play music anymore; because I don't have the time, training, or resources to make it great. This is why I never excelled above average in almost 4 years of a full time job that moved so fast-paced, that if you tried to make a “perfect” result, you would get behind before you knew it. After 3 years of trying, I became satisfied with “just getting by” until I could find my way out of that business.

Sometimes this character paradox confuses me. I have family who praises good character, and they always recognize the good side of this paradox. While I was still playing music, or while I was in the middle of my dead-end job, I would hear from a parent, aunt, uncle, or grandparent that they were proud of me. They would praise my perfectionism and my drive to produce results, all the while I was thinking “what's the use if I don't have time to be perfect?” Other times I flat out didn't believe them, and let the subject change as quickly as possible.

Before this project, I had only vaguely recognized my perfectionism when it comes to writing. I knew that my research papers in college would turn out well, I had a little fun with a meaningless blog once or twice, and I like to spin phrases in my emails to make sure my tone is understood the way I intend it. But since my research paper days have ended, I haven't had much use for writing on a regular basis

So why do it now?

First, I need to have hobbies in my life that allow me to pursue a lesser form of perfectionism. I've never pursued writing as a career or in any form of competition, so maybe I can be ok with being “good enough” at this. It's also something that makes good use of my time (at least better than sitting in front of a TV for hours).

*I have to admit here that this may be difficult, specifically because of today's topic.  I would love for this page to gain popularity, but I know that once it does I could run into the same obstacles as I described above.  If you're reading this early post, do me a favor and help me to keep this in check.  It's OK if I don't have a big audience, if nobody ever comments, and if I skip a day every now and then.  Any reminders of this are welcome.*

Second, I've found that writing is a great outlet for my thoughts and feelings. I've never been very good at expressing them verbally (just ask my wife), but somehow when it's just me and a keyboard, everything flows more easily.

But finally, and possibly the most important reason I've started writing, is the permanent record that it leaves. When I find myself thinking back, wondering if I've improved myself in the last year, I can turn to my writing to see exactly how I thought and felt. When someone asks me about important experiences in my life and I can't come up with all of the details, I can have something to remind me. And when I have kids that are old enough to ask me why their mom and I wanted to adopt them, I can show them exactly how badly we wanted them in our lives, and how long our anxious excitement lasted before we finally brought them home.

I have made this journal public partly for the accountability I get from your reading it, but mostly because I've learned that when one person is honest about their experiences, there's almost always someone on the other end of the conversation that needs to learn from those experiences.

Today I hope that some anonymous reader gains some encouragement from reading about my struggles.  Even more, I hope that I've been honest enough with myself that I learn from my own story.

Always moving forward,



  1. I have the same challenge. It's really difficult for me to let people read anything I've written unless I'm satisfied with it, and I'm hardly ever satisfied with it. I've had a livejournal for years, but I've mostly kept it private or hidden for a select group of friends. I've been writing on my WordPress account for less than a year, and it's all public. I keep reminding myself that this is good for me.

  2. Tyler, I can so relate! I'm sorry that you got that gene, too. Well, maybe we, the perfectionist strugglers, can all help each other through this. Anyway, I'm thankful for you and your insights and then also for you sharing them. Keep up the good (maybe not perfect) work. I'm not saying it's not perfect. HA!