Myself, and My Beloved Critic
I was driving home at 9:00 pm. I had not yet begun my homework assignments, and a Calculus test awaited me first thing in the morning. I had taken an extra shift at the bakery, and a small piece of regret filled my brain as I crushed it to bits. At times like these, I wished time could just freeze, and allow me one millisecond to scream my heart out, because I was tired… I was so tired.
And yet, I couldn’t stop. I gripped my steering wheel tighter because rest was not an option – because I couldn’t say no to myself. I sharpened my focus on the road to make myself ignore how quickly I was breaking down, how little I had acknowledged my mental fatigue. I was so tired, but I couldn’t stop. And I didn’t dare to ask why.
You see, in a world filled with reasons for self-hatred and resentment, we’re quick to reach for anything that gives us validation. For you, it might be your looks, or your grades, or the relationships you have long strived to nurture. For me, it’s my performance in anything I do.
I’m a perfectionist. At one point, life would not continue until I got a stellar mark and twirled my pencil at a specific angle. Sure, it caused time to pass by, and my eyes grew heavy from the lack of sleep, but I never stopped. I could never stop. Because that was my only sense of worth. It always had been.
At age four, I auditioned at a music school in the ancient city of Yerevan, my hometown. Tchaikovsky music school was known to be one of the best in the city, if not the country, and I was desperate to get in. The days grew shorter as I sprinted towards my goal, and thankfully, I made it in time. The teachers were impressed with my four year old piano playing.
Things went well, and I thanked my mentality for pushing me to victory, for not giving up. I was glad to have this mindset. After all, If I had said no to such a wonderful opportunity, I was at risk of being worthless. No, I would be worthless. A four year old cannot allow that. And so I studied the piano until my neighbors knew my tunes by heart. They said I made the piano come to life. They said I was amazing, and my heart beamed with pride.
Then, as is usually the case, everything went downhill.
It was a simple misplacement of a finger. I was now two years older, and my tooth had just fallen out. Tooth fairies do not travel to Armenia, so you flush your tooth in the toilet instead, and make a wish. An important musical concert was coming up, and my wish was to deliver perfection. At six years old, you expect nothing less.
Adrenaline pumped through my body and I adjusted my collar once again. A part of my musical piece had troubled me prior to this, and I was afraid to make a mistake. I looked around to see if others felt the same. Some kids were pacing back and forth, some were playing their pieces in the air, and one kid desperately had to pee. Regardless, we were all scared. Then it was my turn. I oddly remember how shiny my shoes were in the light of the stage as I began to play, expecting perfection, as always.
My fingers sang a different story. The piece was almost finished, and my heart was hammering with excitement – I had successfully played the part I was afraid of. To this day, I’m not sure why my finger slipped at the easiest part of the piece, yet I still remember the horrified feeling behind my calm smile. As I took a bow, the applause from the audience seemed to be nothing but pitiful, perhaps even disappointed. I had failed. My mistake made me a failure.
I’m sixteen now, but I still carry that burden around me. I still remember the betrayal I felt as my family dared to tell me I had done good, for in my mind, I was awful. I also felt guilty; in my eyes, they put in a lot of effort to make their praise sound believable. I refused to believe it was sincere.
I ask you to consider this as a somewhat well-written, and perhaps a bit cheesy, cautionary tale. I ask you to not base your worth off of what you do, but off of who you are. If you have a mentality similar to mine, and are hesitant to let it go because of all the things it has helped you achieve, let me say this:
I, too, will never let go of my perfectionism. Now, however, I recognize the importance of establishing healthy boundaries with this old friend of mine –learning to say no to my perfectionism, my beloved critic, once in a while. I think I owe at least that much to younger me. I think she’d thank me if I allowed myself to breathe.
With that being said, I’m off to bed. I deserve a rest after my long day.
And so do you.