On Perfectionism, Writer’s Block, and Overcoming Both

Hands down, my least favourite question during a job interview is being asked the quintessential “What is your biggest weakness?” question. Firstly, where do I even begin?! Secondly, how do I trick my potential bosses into thinking any flaw of mine is actually going to be an asset to their business? (Fun fact: I once answered with “strong, dark-haired men”. In return I received astonished laughter, and a job offer. #TryItUofT?)

I read somewhere once that the best and worst response in an interview would be to say, “My biggest flaw is that I’m a perfectionist.” I figure this works both ways because – congratulations: you have solved the quandary I discussed above and successfully fooled those suckers into hiring you – but you’ve done it at the cost of sounding like the most irritating human being on the planet. And at the risk of coming in a close second to that title, I’m going to take the leap and say I can relate to that.

Trying to sell yourself to somebody vs. not coming off as incredibly annoying... the eternal struggle.
Trying to sell yourself to somebody vs. not coming off as ~the worst~… it’s the eternal struggle. (PC: headlikeanorange.tumblr.com)

I really, really enjoy writing as a pastime. One of my most prized possessions to date is a purple plush-bound diary I received for my fifth birthday. I’ve blogged since the days of Xanga. I actually kind of enjoyed proofreading my friends’ essays in high school (albeit partially due to my grammar nazi tendencies). I tend to do better on essays and written assignments than I do on tests that solely feature multiple choice questions. I think I’ve even started several novels throughout my lifetime (I know, it’s taking all of my energy not to roll my eyes at myself right now).

Yeah... I was that girl.
Yeah… I was (and still am) that girl. (PC: via Tumblr/survivingcollege.com)

But it’s been almost 15 years since I received that diary and I never managed to fill out all of its pages. I’ve started so many blogs with the intent of keeping a constant record that I can’t remember all the screen names I own. I’ve spent time rewriting sentences for other people’s papers without starting my own. I don’t think I’ve ever finished an essay earlier than the night before or morning of its due date. And there’s a reason I’m here as a student at U of T and not richer than the Queen of England, à la J.K. Rowling. To what do I owe this misfortune? My prognosis: a terrible case of writer’s block, brought on by the onset of perfectionism.

Writing for Life at U of T has not so much been a job for me as it is has been an outlet to create something I hope others will enjoy from doing something that I love. Recently, however, I’m finding it harder and harder to produce writing that I’m happy with. (Another fun fact: I had writer’s block while writing this post about writer’s block. Super meta and ironic.) The constant anxiety of not being able to perfectly transfer my thoughts from mind to keyboard has gotten me literally nowhere, except in slowing down my progress.

Credit: Screencap from The Office
Essentially what perfectionism does to you. (PC: Screencap from The Office)

This was not so much a piece on health and wellness as it is a reflection of an experience that I’m sure most of you will be able empathize with in your time at U of T (and probably one that’s occurred more than once). It also isn’t necessarily limited to an experience within the scope of writing. It’s scary thinking about constantly having to reach a certain standard you’ve set for yourself once you start producing work that you’re actually happy with, or when you start believing that everything you’re doing isn’t living up to your potential. This is probably especially prevalent to most of us when it comes to finals season. Upon the arrival of finals season, it boils down to two emotions – (1) feeling like you have to outperform yourself on the exam because you didn’t do as well as you had hoped throughout the semester, or (2) worrying about your exam performance pulling down your grade and having a semester’s worth of hard work thrown away in vain. Take this common piece of advice given by psychotherapists to patients with anxiety-related disorders: Stop worrying about not being able to do your best, and just get out there and do your best. You’ll only be doing yourself a favour.

So on that note, come brilliant, inspiring, prose or not – until next week, U of T.


2 comments on “On Perfectionism, Writer’s Block, and Overcoming Both

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *