Friday, September 21, 2012

all or nothing

During my senior year of high school, I was cast as Aunt Eller in our production of Oklahoma!. The movie's been on TV a lot lately, causing me to have at least one song stuck in my head at any given moment. Recently, I've been humming "All Er Nuthin" sung by Ado Annie (played by Gloria Grahame) & Will Parker (Gene Nelson). Never heard it? I'm not surprised. Have a listen:

Even though the song is about giving your partner your all in marriage, the phrase has really been sticking with me lately. Yesterday, I was reading My Year with Eleanor and came across a passage about perfectionists/perfectionism. And it never really hit me until that moment just how well it described me. Of course I can't find the passage now, but I'm at work, so I'll try to come back with it later. Lets turn to our friend Wikipedia for a brief synopsis:
Perfectionists have also been described as those who strain compulsively and unceasingly toward unobtainable goals, and who measure their self-worth with their productivity and accomplishment.[4] Pressuring oneself to achieve such unrealistic goals inevitably sets the individual up for disappointment. Perfectionists tend to be harsh critics of themselves when they do not meet the standards they set for themselves...Unhealthy perfectionists consider their mistakes a sign of personal defects. For these individuals, anxiety about potential failure is the reason perfectionism is felt as a burden.
It goes on to say that there are people who can use their perfectionism in a healthy manner to keep them striving towards goals; This reminds me most of my sister in law, Stephanie, who makes goals, re-evaluates her goals, and achieves them, all on a regular basis.

I talked about some goals in this post, but, honestly, haven't done a thing about it in the six months that have passed. Do I think those goals are unrealistic? Not really, but somewhere in my mind, I can feel myself thinking "you're not going to accomplish them anyway, so why even bother?" And I think that's the mindset I've gotten myself stuck into over the past eight years or so.

I say eight years, because that's the last time I felt like my life was full of positive promise - the summer of high school graduation. The first two years of college, I struggled immensely with the decision of "what to major in". I struggled with living on my own for the first time in my life - and that existance was funded a lot on credit. Then I went through this revolving cycle of paying off credit card debt only to tack on new (and usually more) in the next year(s). Then I graduated college and was faced with bleak employment options and massive student loan debt. And now, here I am, only three years away from my thirties with absolutely nothing to show for it, except some clothes that I really don't like very much anyway.

Author Julia Cameron wrote: “Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead. It is a loop — an obsessive, debilitating closed system that causes you to get stuck in the details of what you are [doing] and to lose sight of the whole.”

That sounds all too familiar.

Obviously it's not all bad. I'm lucky to have some very awesome people in my life who support me no matter how many times I make mistakes (even if they're the same ones over and over again). And I am thankful for that everyday.

Phew - I did not expect this post to turn into an emotional analysis. Your turn. Any personality quirks (good or bad) you want to reveal?


  1. You give me more credit than I deserve! I definitely have a perfectionist streak, but it *very* easily turns into that "all or nothing" mentality. The difference is that I lean toward "all," which at times meant doing crazy stuff like cleaning the apartment in the middle of the night or skipping meals so I could wash the dirty dishes in the sink when I didn't have time for both. I actually saw a therapist about it for a bit, and learned that I've had some fairly significant obsessive-compulsive issues that go back to the time I was a toddler, but to an outsider I just seem very responsible, conscientious, etc. so issues like these typically go undiagnosed - they're positive traits taken to an unhealthy extreme. I also read a very interesting book called Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control. Described me perfectly. I highly recommend it if you find you struggle with unhealthy levels of perfectionism.

    And from a financial perspective, this perfectionism was actually hurting our retirement savings, because I would have a goal for how much to put into the IRAs each month, and if I didn't have the full amount, I'd decide to wait until I had it to make the transfer, and next thing I knew it would be the next month, and I'd skipped a whole month of contributions. I finally decided it was better to make a lower contribution that month than none at all, so now even if we don't quite meet our goals, we get a heck of a lot closer!

  2. Lady... sometimes I feel the same way. Six years of school and almost 4 years of working at job I really do not enjoy, has made me assess all the decisions I have ever made. For me it was economical decisions (which ruined my credit), educational, professional, etc. You get my drift. I really thought I would have done something more with my life- like something to show for myself.... Then again, I remind myself that "almost thirty" doesn't mean that I should roll over and die...we all have our own ways of setting goals and assessing them. From sitting behind you I know that you have became more conscious about spending... I hear you- not only talk about it, but also put it into practice. Chin up!