I’ve always believed it was my job to fix the world. To make everything perfect.
I never actually said that. I didn’t even consciously think it. But I walked through the world feeling a sort of panic — a desperation to fix things — that most people never experience.
Looking back, it’s obvious now where that fear came from. As I was growing up, my narcissistic father held me responsible for being perfect. I was punished for any deviation from what he thought was right and good. And he constantly judged everybody and everything around me.
Behind their backs, he ridiculed people who did things incorrectly. If he saw a public mistake — a timing error on a live television show or a typo in a newspaper, for instance — he used to tell me that someone must have been fired for the mistake. And I believed him.
I’m still afraid of my own imperfection. I still feel panic when I see others’ mistakes. After all these years, there’s still a nagging feeling inside that I have to fix everything — or else I’ll be punished.
I read something a few minutes ago that suggested an affirmation for me to try. It said, “I now affirm that life is good and unfolding in miraculous ways.” I actually felt myself shudder when I read the line — and I realized just how off-kilter my reaction is.
I found myself feeling that old fear. The world is imperfect. Messed up. Wrong. Filled with mistakes. And everything is going to fall apart if I don’t fix things. What’s more, I’m a bad person — deserving of punishment — if I don’t point out all the errors and show others how they can fix themselves.
I consciously realize how ridiculous this is. I’m not perfect. I’ll never be perfect. I won’t even have a firm idea of what “perfect” should be. I know that a lot of what I believe is wrong. I realize that some of my judgement about what’s wrong — and what’s imperfect — about other people and in the rest of the world is completely wrong.
But on an emotional level, that makes me panic. I have to point out the imperfection around me. The idiocy. The mistaken beliefs. The poor reasoning. The dishonesty. The world is filled with these things. Lots of them are obvious to me. And I have the panicky feeling that I’m going to be in trouble if I don’t somehow fix everybody and everything.
It’s been 10 days since I stopped posting on Facebook. I still have times when I suddenly think of something I’d like to post there. I might have an interesting thought to share or maybe I’ve observed something funny. It feels strange not to have an outlet for those tiny thoughts which were Facebook posts but aren’t long enough to be worth articles here. But that’s not the biggest change I’ve noticed.
I’m not feeling the constant need to explain what others are getting wrong. I’m not reading the cacophony of dumb opinions and wrong assertions and confused reasoning. I’m not muttering under my breath about how stupid this person is or feeling frustrated that someone else is repeating irrational conclusions.
Staying away from Facebook — and from most other forms of social media — keeps me from seeing so much of the imperfection in the world that I’ve felt driven to fix. And it’s allowing me to spend more time with my own thoughts and feelings and errors and misperceptions.
More and more, I’m shutting out what I perceive as wrong with the world — whether I’m right or not — and it’s allowing me to focus once again on what I can actually do in my own life instead.
Those who know me best already understand that I’m held back by my fear of not being perfect at whatever I do. I’m afraid to write the scripts that I want to write, because they won’t be good enough. I’m afraid to make the short films that I’ve been struggling to make — much less the feature — because I fear the work wouldn’t be perfect. I’m afraid of people seeing just how imperfect I am.
Nobody expects me to be perfect except me. I know that. But it doesn’t stop me from wanting to pretend to be perfect. It doesn’t stop me from beating myself up every time I make any error. It doesn’t stop me from being angry and upset with myself about everything I publish for the world to see.
That’s especially true of my photos. Every time I publish something — even if it’s just to one of my Instagram accounts — I look at the work afterward and obsess about what’s wrong with it. I ran across the photo above — which I took last spring — earlier this evening, and I started beating myself up about all that’s wrong with it.
I live with that sort of obsessive self-criticism all the time. And I’m never going to live up to my natural talent and creative passions until I can get over this need to be perfect.
I can make some pretty nice things. Sometimes. When I’m not so terrified that I’m going to be punished for not being perfect.