At this point, everyone knows that perfectionism and procrastination go hand-in-hand. It was an epiphany the first time I figured it out, but soon it became permission to be lazy. It has now become a blog I pay to maintain but almost never update, a life still rooted in Florida despite my open-window-weather dreams, and grad school applications on some remote backburner until academic references materialize. Genuine irony is delicious when it’s not ruining my life, so I try to laugh about the fact that my own fear of failure has prevented so much success.
But today, after months and months of unlike-me panic about my age (27) and how I still haven’t written a book or changed opinions about social equality and animal welfare… well, today it stops.
I’ve been aware of this perfectionism phenomenon since high school, and it pulled me through all six years of college too, telling me to put off that paper until I had a brilliant thesis and put down that pen until I had the “clarity” or inspiration to write a decent poem.
My writing ability does come in waves — when I’m particularly good at throwing words together, I feel possessed because it’s such an anomaly — but I’m also smart enough to know this is a stupid excuse. Maybe it’s not even intelligence; maybe it’s allowing myself to remember a lesson as basic as The Little Engine That Could.
So when a college friend shared this Human Parts article (Particle?) on Facebook today, I allowed myself another epiphany: who cares?
The author lists the things she’s bad at, but does regularly: brushing her teeth, cooking, managing her time, managing her weight. The list is familiar for almost everyone, I’d imagine, or at least everyone in my social demographic: female, late 20′s, not particularly successful in any grand way, but still capable of staying alive and keeping animals alive and paying the bills most of the time.
Her general takeaway: if I’m not good at it, I’m going to do it anyway.
And I’m going to follow her lead, starting with this post.
It’s not well-organized, it doesn’t make any stunningly original observations about life, and it won’t go viral. It might not even get read at all, which would actually make me feel better than hearing about family members wasting their time on it.
But tomorrow will be SIX MONTHS since I quit my corporate job, and while I’m still sustaining my bank accounts with sporadic freelance work, I’m not doing anything daring. I’m not volunteering anywhere regularly, unless you count picking up my Little from school and entertaining her for a few weekly hours. I’m not posting daily blog articles or even looking for a real online niche. I haven’t even finished my animal welfare website, or written a single article about rabbit meat at Whole Foods or cosmetic testing bills on the Senate floor or the arson fire that destroyed our local spay/neuter clinic and killed three cats.
And I was supposed to be doing all of these things, but I keep imagining the Perfect Voice the world needs to stop cruelty once and for all, and I know mine isn’t it. So instead, I’ve spent my first six months of free adulthood as a late-twenties cliche, a discontent in-betweener who wishes the world were a better place but has enough trouble remembering to do laundry.
Joel has spent all morning listening to a live presentation from his huge corporate employer, about their third-quarter performance. It reminds me of every meeting I ever had to attend at my corporate job, in which executives implored nameless, faceless underlings to work even harder to raise profits they’ll never ever see. It always made me sick, because the people at the bottom needed the paycheck boost infinitely more than the executives threatening layoffs and salary freezes if their bonuses weren’t big enough.
And I’m grateful that I escaped that thankless cycle in pursuit of something better and more meaningful, but… beyond my own daily happiness and re-gained holidays and weekends, what have I replaced it with?
I’m not counteracting that culture of greed and privilege, because I’ve spent the past six months deciding I’m incapable of doing anything about it. I’ve read so many essays by better writers than myself, listened to so many expert lectures about epidemics I barely understand, and most importantly, seen so much evidence of the fact that some people will never change. Ignorance, apathy, and laziness will always enable destruction, injustice, and selfishness.
Some humans will spend their lives raising money and awareness, just to make a tiny difference in the lives of underprivileged humans and animals. Other humans will stay callous and cruel their whole lives, relishing the opportunity to stamp out those efforts and punish the sensitive and selfless. From burning down animal clinics to easily believing racist and classist propaganda, some humans will always do anything but confront the reality of modern suffering or challenge themselves to make a difference.
Instead of trying in vain to think of ways to enlighten the privileged, I should be trying — imperfectly, with plenty of frustrations along the way — to make any small dent in reducing suffering. Instead of imagining this perfect poetry portfolio that will eventually get me into Iowa’s MFA program, or collecting stray novel ideas without writing so much as a short story, or starting but never finishing articles about racism and veganism, maybe I should just be doing something every day.
So here goes. With an appropriately disorganized and rambling article to kick it off, here begins my attempt to turn the rest of my twenties into something. Anything.