The other night I grabbed dinner in Jersey City with my friend, Ashley. We used to intern together at a magazine, before I made the leap to the freelance life. In those days, I was scarfing down salami and mayonnaise sandwiches, potato chips, and coffee with extra cream in the lunchroom, and waddling around the office in plus-size pants…so when I went back to Weight Watchers in November of 2007 and started shedding the weight, she was one of the few people who had a front-row seat to Jen’s Incredible Shrinking Body.
Needless to say, I’m quite comfortable and candid with her when it comes to discussing my weight loss, and when we get together, the topic typically veers in the direction of diet and exercise. (What can I say…we’re women!) And Tuesday night was no exception.
Among other things, one of the issues that kept resurfacing during our conversation is the fact that my perfectionism is doing nothing by hindering my success…in my weight loss, in my writing career, in my life in general. In fact, she suggested seeking therapy (thanks, Ash!) in dealing with my constant urge to be perfect. But she’s absolutely right – I could really use the help. I’m ready to admit that now.
Ever since elementary school, when I wanted nothing more than to pull straight-As on every test, I’ve exhibited the classic over-achieving, perfectionist personality. If I couldn’t be the absolute best at something (e.g. dance classes, basketball games, piano lessons), then I would just throw my hands up and quit. What’s the point in trying? It’s either I do something perfectly, or it’s not worth doing at all.
Maybe I was desperately seeking my parents’ approval and pride, or maybe I was always secretly searching for a way to stand out from my classmates that had nothing to do with being the biggest girl in class. Plus, I was tormented for my weight day in and day out, so it was always a nice change of pace to hear taunts of “geek” and “teacher’s pet,” instead.
Whatever the reason, I’ve gone through my entire life beating myself up for every “failure,” and simply giving up the moment I determine that I’m not an especially talented tap dancer or flute player. It never mattered how much my pitching improved in softball, or how many points my SAT score increased each time I took the test. I never give myself credit for any accomplishment I make, and I’m never fully satisfied with my attempts. I’m uncomfortable accepting compliments because I don’t believe I deserve them. I’d study my spelling words for hours upon end every single night, but when my teacher pinned that second place ribbon on my shirt after the third grade spelling bee, I berated myself for not studying harder.
Ultimately, I need to be the best…or I need not bother at all.
And then I wonder why not one of the dozens of “diets” I’ve been on throughout my life ever worked. I’d vow to “start my diet on Monday,” stick to it for three days, and then after one scoop of chocolate ice cream on Thursday night, I’d consider myself a failure and devour the rest of the carton.
It was always all or nothing with me: either I was meticulously monitoring every morsel of food I put into my mouth, or it was an eating free-for-all. There was never any middle ground. I gained more than six pounds over the holidays because I kept “messing up” my weight loss efforts – one piece of chocolate candy here, a slice of apple pie there – so I told myself that I’d never be able to stick to Weight Watchers during Christmas and proceeded to eat every sprinkle-coated treat in sight. I did the same thing last year.
When I know I’ll be going out to dinner or have two birthday celebrations to attend in the same week, I won’t be able to be completely “on plan”…so instead of having a salad for lunch and counteracting fried appetizers later on, I don’t even try. I eat anything I want all day and chalk it up to, “I’ll just get back on track tomorrow.” I can’t just eat right during the day and allow myself one cookie after dinner – even though that’s the whole point of Weight Watchers’ “everything in moderation” approach to weight loss. Instead, I’m either “on” or “off” – I stick to my POINTS target perfectly, or I don’t count them at all. I eat nothing but fruits, veggies, and whole grains, or I eat chips, crackers, and candy. I work out hard for an hour every night, or I don’t work out at all.
Meanwhile, I have weeks to finish a magazine article or newspaper story for an editor, but they receive it 46 seconds before the 12pm deadline because I’m revising and tweaking and fixing and editing until I consider it absolutely “perfect.” Instead of searching for writing work , networking with and pitching editors, and getting my writing business off the ground, I’m taking one $75 newspaper article and writing it and rewriting it over and over and over again because it’s never quite good enough for me to send in. I spend weeks and weeks crafting the “perfect” query letter for an editor – but I can’t make money for my ideas if they never leave my desktop.
I’ve spent nearly two hours on this blog post. I’ve published it and gone back in to make edits and changes five times already.
It’s no wonder why I’m struggling. I can’t be the perfect Weight Watcher every minute of every day, nor can every comma be placed in the ideal place in every story. If a friend were complaining about all of this, I’d tell them they were being unrealistic and that they should be proud of their efforts…and yet, I can’t do the same for myself. Ashley was a little down on herself because she started writing a novel and has had a hard time sitting down to work on it, and I jumped in and told her she should be proud she started one at all, and that I admire her for it.
Meanwhile, I hold myself to standards that are damn near impossible to achieve. I’m struggling with absolutely everything in my life because nothing I do is ever good enough, and I have to fight the urge to throw in the towel on anything I attempt because I’m never quite strong enough or smart enough or talented enough to accomplish anything.
Because I’ve gone through life as an obese, insecure woman, I’ve never let myself feel worthy of happiness. And it’s all catching up to me now.
I’m the only one who’s standing in the way of my success.