I had a decently large workload, a rushing deadline, and no coffee in my system, so it’s not surprising that I was pretty frustrated at having to sit through my third meeting of the day. I listened blandly to the banter about a storm five years ago, and then to the discussion of our budgetary status. When the topic of a newsletter recently completed by Training & Documentation came up, however, I took a bit more interest. I had designed the first edition ever of this newsletter two years ago, but had barely seen the second edition because my schedule kept me busy with other projects.
The comment was made that this latest newsletter was our most beautiful and wonderful one ever, and I quipped, “You mean out of two?” I hadn’t really thought about the statement, but reacted as if I had just been slapped.
“Well, yes,” my boss replied. “And in comparison with all the older ones, too.”
I had poured weeks into that first newsletter, long hours, intense effort, wrangled and wrote and argued, and felt extremely proud of the result. And it had received commensurate praise at the time, with everyone observing its beauty and the helpful information it supplied. With those words, however, I felt like it had been dumped in the trash.
I have been told on occasion that I have rather high standards–the word impossible might have been mentioned in some instances–and I recognize that I do demand a fairly high quality of work from both myself and others. That being said, I always praise others duly and try my best to highlight the positive. I may generally be unsatisfied with the state of things, but I recognize that everything is a process that is incomplete. I don’t expect perfection and I don’t treat others poorly for not having met it.
Just the same, I try to not treat myself poorly even though I recognize my work isn’t great. My writing isn’t anywhere near where I’d like it to be, and it would be easy to fall into the trap of perfectionism and toss everything I have done to this point. Close the laptop, let the keyboard rest, and go to bed. I could just live a normal life of going to work, watching TV, and eating. But I have stories to tell, and ideas I want to share, so I will do the best I can. Yes, my words will be better in ten years, but at that time I will simply do the best I can with what I have. Ten years later, I hope to improve further.
What I’m saying is, I’m not a complete perfectionist. I work hard, but I’m not unrealistic. Nevertheless, because I work so hard and take at least some pride in what I produce, I tend to assume that the product of my labours is at least OK. Yet it seems that every time I have shown something to anyone over the last few months the response has been,
And then the problems come out, accompanied by the observations of what’s wrong and the long list of everything that needs changed. I feel like I haven’t done anything right in months and like all of my work is worthless.
Despite that, in my personal life I feel productive and victorious because I have been managing. I have been working full time and meeting my deadlines there, and I feel like my work has been good. I have been going to class two nights a week, still working towards my degree, and I’m getting good grades. I have continued to be involved with my college ministry as much as I can, and I have kept up with Sunday morning church. I have maintained my writing schedule of publishing three times a week plus additional writing in the background (fiction, theology, technical manuals, etc.). I feel successful, but the responses I have gotten from everyone have been lackluster at best. Today’s meeting was just another punch in the gut.
It would be easy to shut down at this point, but as I walked to our car, I recalled an exchange between Master Long and Wu-Fei Chang in Gundam Wing. They were discussing how the colonies had turned against the Gundams, isolating those who had been fighting to keep the colonies free, and that the war had become confusing and even more evil than before. As Wu-Fei questioned who his enemies really were, Master Long shared:
“You must remain true to your own sense of Integrity.”
“Integrity?” Wu-fei asked.
“Yes, Integrity. Never lie to yourself, never betray yourself, and always be true to your self.”
Sometimes my sense of integrity is all that keeps me going, and it is that integrity that I wield to fight perfectionism. I will not betray myself and give up on my passion and ideals. I will not lie to myself and believe I am fantastic, but likewise I will not accept that my work is unsalvagable. I will be true to my ideals and goals and continue to pursue them.
Hopefully things will turn around soon and what I produce at work will be met with some measure of praise again, but I can’t let that dictate my diligence. We have to continue soliciting criticism if we are ever going to improve, and we have to listen to and take that criticism into account, but we mustn’t lie to ourselves either. I worked hard, I did well, and I’ll feel good about that even if no one else does, or tells me that they do.
Maybe I’m just another cog, but I’ll be the best damned cog I can be, and I’ll shine.
“You have no idea how high I can fly.”