Perfectionism And New York City
I’ve always had a fear of being perceived as wrong. My earliest memory of it is in the first grade. We were writing in our journals at school and I asked my teacher how to spell the word “hour”. She scolded me for interrupting her from working with another student to ask about a word that was already on the board multiple times. The word on the board, however, was “our” and when I tried to explain to her that I meant the other “(h)our” she brushed me away. I assumed this must mean they were spelled the same and used “our” in my sentence but was completely embarrassed later when she circled my spelling error for not including the h.
In grade 4 we learned how to type. We would have sessions in the computer lab going through a program that had us practicing at different levels. Your speed and accuracy allowed you to move ahead to the next level. I remember there were two or three other students in my class of about 25 who were always a level or two ahead of me. The fact that I couldn’t catch up drove me crazy and brought me to tears multiple times. I couldn’t stand to think that someone might think I’m not as smart as them. I turned it into such a big deal that my mom ended up asking my teacher to let me stay in at recess so I could work on the typing course that wasn’t even mandatory to finish.
At Christmas with my cousin’s when I was about 10 I got in an argument over how to keep score in the card game we were playing. Because two people were tied for first, I said the next person should be in third, not second. I had seen it this way in golf on tv so when my little cousin told me I was wrong, I put up a fight. I knew I was right but nobody would take my side and it crushed me to think that my entire family thought I was so dumb that I couldn’t even keep score properly.
To this day I still crumble at the thought of someone thinking or knowing I’ve made an error. I know in theory that nobody is perfect, but in practice I don’t understand why I can’t be the closest thing to it. When I mess up, though others often see it as a sign of being human, I take it as a sign of being a failure. This comes up a lot when I’m travelling (and in everyday life because - surprise - I mess up a lot).
I always want to make the most out of my trips - I’ve spent a lot of money and made a great effort to be wherever I am - I wouldn’t want to waste any of it. So I do my research, I plan ahead, I check the weather religiously. I know what I want to see and do and plan my time accordingly. I add buffer space for spontaneity, but within reason because too many unknowns are bound to lead to wasted time and money.
This approach has never been an issue when travelling alone. It’s served me well and made for some really awesome adventures. But when you add a travel partner to the mix who likes to sleep in, has few opinions, and would rather go with the flow, it’s a recipe for disaster. In my experience, one of two things can happen. 1 - we follow my plan but the other person doesn’t enthusiastically love every second of it so I feel like I’ve made terrible decisions and ruined everything, or 2 - I attempt to be “chill” and give up control to the other person, but they have done zero research and don’t care what we do, so we walk around aimlessly as I’m bitter about wasting time that we could have used to do the other things on my list.
This is how my recent trip to New York went. I don’t blame the other person - they are who they are and that’s fine - being a perfectionist I easily find the fault in myself. I look back on our visit and rather than seeing the fun experiences we shared, I remember the times that I was busy blaming myself for something I never could have anticipated. And then the times that I was mad at myself for spending time being mad at myself. If only I could be more carefree. If only I were more perfect at not being perfect.
I’ve been told countless times to just let things go. To stop worrying. Not to take things so personally. To move on. To stop apologizing. That it’s not the end of the world. But to be honest, those things are a million times easier for someone outside of my head to say than they are for me to actually do. I don’t want to be that anal travel partner who has to be in charge of everything. I don’t want to constantly blame myself for other people not having the best time all the time. I don’t want to have a total meltdown in a metro station when we have to pay an extra $5 for a transfer that I assumed would be included. But I don’t know how not to be. These thoughts have been running through my head for far too long.
Don’t mess up. Don’t waste money. Don’t ruin things for other people. Never be unprepared. Anticipate every possible outcome. Never miss out on an opportunity. And for heaven’s sake, when you do fail you better be able to cast it aside as if it somehow doesn’t matter that you weren’t able to meet the unattainable expectations you’ve put on yourself since you were a little girl.
Lately, I’ve been trying so hard to not care that not caring has become a thing to care about. It’s an impossible cycle that I don’t know how to escape. But it’s been said that practice makes perfect, so maybe what I need is to practice not being perfect?
If that’s the case, here is a little video I made from my time in New York. It’s terribly rushed and nearly every shot has something wrong with it. I’m putting it out there anyway. I knew as I was shooting each clip that they were going to be way too shaky to use for anything, but for some reason I kept taking them anyway. I think it was so I could learn a tiny little lesson in sitting with imperfections. It’s not pleasant but I’m also fine. Nobody is going to die. Some people might think less of me but that’s okay. Just like it’s okay that I didn’t have a perfect trip to New York. There were moments of joy and I can always go back for more - maybe next time with lower expectations and a smaller to-do list.