Perfectionism and Guilt

Hola Everybody,
A friend took me to go see Fences yesterday. I have to say that, in a film that is chock full of powerful turns, Viola Davis acting was one of the most powerful performances I have ever seen. Full stop.

The film, which explores manhood, fathers and sons, intergenerational trauma, motherhood, relationships, among other themes, is a tour de force of direction by Denzel Washington. He managed to wring out stunning performances from all involved — parts big and small. Hollywood will very likely ignore it, but fuck them. we don’t need their validation. Strongly recommended.

Here’s hoping that whatever you do this year, you do it joyously. Felicidades.

The Perfection of Guilt

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I quit high school and was hanging out, being a table pimp1 and shit, until my mother put a damper on all that one cold February morning. She came into my room and requested I wake up. When I didn’t listen, she came back and poured icy cold water all over me.

“Here’s carfare money, get out of my house, and don’t come back until after 5pm, like people who work do,” she informed me.

For the first couple of days, I hung out at friends’ homes until their mothers (who were just as sick of their slacker sons) let me know I couldn’t be hanging out in their homes doing nothing.

It was winter and it was cold, so it was hard to find a place to hang out. I really thought my mother was being an unreasonable bitch at the time.

Well, I came home one early day, and she gave me two options: I would either finish school and enroll in college, in which case, she’d be willing to sell her ass if need be to support me (my mother has a colorful way with language), or I went to work with my stepfather as a construction laborer. Just to show you where my head was at the time, I chose the latter.

My stepfather did not want me working with his crew. He fought, yelled, and stomped, but in the end, he had to take me to work or suffer my mother’s wrath. I knew jack shit about construction — he even had to tell me to take my hands out of my pockets at the site. LOL!

At first, my stepfather would find menial things for me to do just so I would be out of the way. I hated the work. It was hard and it was fuckin cold outside. My stepfather was a patient man, and one day he took me to the side one day and told me that he was going to teach me some skills that I will always have some use for later in life.

He wasn’t lying.

I learned how to put up sheetrock and then how to set tiles. I was a fast learner, so my stepfather’s confidence in me grew. One day, he left me alone to do a bathroom from scratch. Now, setting tile is not as simple as it looks. But if you follow the basic rules, you can get the knack of it pretty quick. I mean, set your level, draw the line, add the gook, and start tiling, right? Well, the thing here was that at the time I loved smoking weed. Smoking weed and doing anything that takes some measure of precision is not a good mix — not very smart. But that’s what I did and when I tiled my first bathroom, I got the leveling wrong and the tiles didn’t match when I made my way around the bathroom — it was off by a lot, like an inch or so.

My stepfather was pissed off, but he was a patient man, and we were able to fix it up a little. The next day, he looked at me and asked if I could do the deed, and I did. This time the level was fine. The tiles looked quite good in fact, except for two tiles that were at wrong angles. Those two tiles were pissing me off and I thought I had done a miserable job. When my stepfather came to inspect my work, he pronounced it a good job. I looked at him and asked if he was high. I showed him the two errant tiles and he turned to me and said something that I never forgot, “I see the two bad tiles, but I see the other 99% percent of the tiles that are well done.”

In this way, my stepfather taught me good craftsmanship, but he taught me a more valuable lesson. The lesson being that perhaps striving for success is better than going for perfection.

Perfection and guilt go hand in hand. When I looked at the wall, all I saw were the two bad tiles. My inner critic immediately went to work and it filtered my perception of reality. My stepfather me taught to build on my successes rather than to focus on my failures. Eventually, I developed into a good tile-setter and I learned other basic carpentry skills that have stayed with me all these years. Skills that helped me get a job wherever I went.

In my work with people, I see this perfection/ guilt trap all the time. People end relationships because all they can see in their partner are the “two bad tiles.” Many become depressed because all we can see in ourselves are “two bad tiles.” The reality is that there is more that is good about us than we care to admit, we just can’t see those qualities. We focus too much on our mistakes. The mistakes are all we see, they’re all we think are there and so we go into an internal war to destroy all that. And sometimes, unfortunately, we destroy a good piece of work.

I hope that whatever you resolve to do this coming year that you focus on what’s good rather than the negative. I hope you drop the internal war and the guilt trips. Those are all traps — prisons that keep you locked up. I actually hope that you develop a mission rather than a resolution. A mission is about being about something, standing up for something. As the saying goes, if you don’t stand for anything, you’ll fall for anything.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, please consider helping me out by sharing it, liking me on Facebook, following me on Twitter, or even throwing me some money on GoFundMe HERE or via PayPal HERE so I can keep calling it like I see it.

Notes:

  1. Table pimp was slang used to describe men who still lived with their parents but bragged their prowess. The table in the phrase was perhaps in reference to the dinner table, as in pimpin’ your mother’s dinner table.