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Progress Not Perfection

When I took acting classes in college, my professor always told me to let go of the critic in my head. Stop watching myself and be in the moment. And I tried. But even now, it’s sometimes a struggle to evict that critic from my brain when she’s lived there, in some studio apartment in my frontal lobe, for 29 years. I used to joke that since my blood type is A positive—A plus—perfectionism is in my blood. For my first sixteen years, overachieving was my normal. Spending hours writing a poem for extra credit when I already had a 97 in the class. Taking all day on my standardized tests—eating lunch in the library or guidance counselor’s office, isolated from my friends who had finished hours earlier. Experiencing so much anxiety my sixth grade year that Mom had to write me encouraging notes every morning, and one teacher joked I would have an ulcer by high school. And then, the woman who was essentially my second mother died from cancer. I fell apart. I barely slept, balancing grief with exhaustion and four AP classes. Intrusive thoughts ruled my life. I wasn’t exactly suicidal, but I did sometimes wish for a bus to run me over because I couldn’t imagine living this way for decades to come. I labeled myself “crazy” and assumed I was the only person in the world with these problems. Fortunately, my parents got me to a wonderful therapist who diagnosed me with obsessive compulsive disorder. Like most of the public, I associated OCD with germophobia or checking locks, so the diagnosis came as a surprise. The breakdown was the tipping point, but I soon realized I’d dealt with this anxiety disorder my entire life…and the perfectionism was its main manifestation. With cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, and the support of family, friends, and the Good Lord, I’ve been stable for over 12 years. I’ll no longer sacrifice my sanity or health by pursuing an unattainable, distorted version of “perfection.” My Progress Not Perfection Zox reminds me not to beat myself up when I flub a ukulele chord or misjudge an angle while drawing. It reminds me not to let my distorted view of “perfection” steal the joy of the process. It reminds me to keep moving forward, and to be kind to myself when I fail. And it tells me that sometimes, good is good enough. As my therapist drilled into my head: “Finished is better than perfect.”