Perfectionism, or do the thing that scares you

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” We’ve all heard that before, right? I don’t know who came up with that quote (some say Eleanor Roosevelt, others, no), but whoever it was — if they actually did what they said — was one heck of a gutsy person.

I don’t do something that scares me every day. If I did, I’d be driving stick shift cars and going into Halloween-style haunted houses on the daily. Yes, it’s true. I write about vampires, but I get panic attacks in haunted houses. I did, however, do something that terrified me today.

I let my mother read the first few pages of my manuscript. Call it a Mother’s Day gift. She’d been begging me for a peek for weeks, but I’ve been too scared to let her take a look.

Why, you ask? It’s not her. It’s actually my dad — bless his memory. Most of what I know about writing, I learned from him. But he was a merciless reviewer of the arts. Not that he was ever wrong with his evaluation — his suggestions made everything better. I credit one simple edit of his for winning me a statewide writing competition in 8th grade.

But his brutal assessments did something else, too. They instilled in me an abiding perfectionism that has in turns served me well, held me back and given me a monstrous case of anxiety. All of that makes something simple — like letting my mother read just a few pages of a manuscript I’ve told her about for years — a Very Big Deal.

And? It wasn’t so bad. Actually, it went very well. Like my dad, my mom gives real critiques — she won’t just say, “Oh, that’s nice,” or gloss over the problems she sees. But unlike my dad, she won’t shred it to pieces and make you feel like a fool for even showing it to her. Compliments are earned; criticism is balanced.

(If you are wondering what I mean when I say that my dad was brutal, here’s an example. I once played a piece of violin music for him at his request. After playing, he said, “Well, the intonation was off and the rhythm was bad, but other than that, it was OK.” That was the last time I ever played music for him. PLEASE, if you are ever asked to critique someone, don’t be that person! I loved my dad. Idolized him, really. But that was crushing.)

In the end, I had to pull the laptop away from her, as my mother was straying into unedited text. She wanted to read more. I’m taking that as a good sign. And maybe the next time I offer my story to be read by someone, it won’t be quite as terrifying.

So, the upshot? Take a chance. Be brave. Do that thing that scares you. It might not be so bad after all.

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