I’m very critical of myself and the work I do. The bar I set to determine my own success is ten times higher than I’d ever expect from anyone else. I know that setting this kind of expectation for myself is silly and can be self-defeating, yet I do it anyway. At least I’m aware of it, right?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer. Even back then I knew my strengths (some of them, anyway) and I knew this was something I was good at. Maybe it came from all the reading I did as a kid, and being exposed to vocabulary and wordsmithery well above my grade level. But I knew this: I was a good writer, and I had a good imagination. At the same time, I was practical enough to know that you have to be really, really, REALLY good to make a living as a novelist. (As an adult, having read plenty of books by certain authors who I won’t name, I’ll add “or really, really, really prolific.”)
When I realized that there was another way to earn a living by writing, I got very excited, and I embraced the idea of becoming a journalist–specifically, a newspaper reporter. My enthusiasm carried me through high school and through most of my undergraduate degree, except that somewhere in there I got the idea that reporters have to be on call at all hours of the day and night, not unlike doctors and firefighters. Not to mention the fact that the journalism world, at that time, was a) highly competitive, and b) not highly paying. In high school I’d been a big fish in a small pond; in college, I was discovering that I was not the only big fish around, and that in fact there were several who were much bigger than me, and justifiably so.
I was saved from having to wrestle with the realities of doing what I loved versus doing what paid the bills, because my senior year of college was 1994-95, and this thing called the World Wide Web was really starting to become a Big Thing, and a couple of my good friends from my hometown were working on their computer science degrees. The year after I graduated with my journalism degree, I found myself going back to college for a few non-degree graduate courses. Before long, my professor had talked me into studying for a master’s degree. Apparently writing wasn’t the only thing that I was good at. So that’s how I ended up here, at this job, rather than somewhere in a newsroom. I’m grateful, because this path led me to many other happy things as well, such as Husband and Kiddo.
But I never lost that passion for writing, and I really enjoy putting words together to make something interesting, something that means something to me and hopefully to others as well. Most of my blog entries take me a long time to write, and most of them don’t get published right after I finish composing them. I like to put a composition away for a little while and then come back and see if there’s anything I can tweak to make it just a little tighter. Any typos or miswordings that need to be fixed. Any long sentences (I do have an unfortunate tendency to write too-long sentences) that could be shortened or broken in half for easier reading. Any parenthetical asides that would be better left out (because I use too many of those, too.) In short, anything that could be made better… and that’s where I get into trouble. That intense self-critical-ness (is that even a word?) and the constant striving for perfection tend to make me very nit-picky about what I write, and sometimes will hinder me from actually publishing whatever I’ve produced.
Last night, for example, I worked on a post for quite a while. I’d actually written most of it last month, but was trying to find a way to tie it all together and wrap everything up with a neat conclusion, and finally get the darn thing out of my drafts folder. It just wasn’t happening, and I was getting frustrated. This morning I got to work, re-read it, and decided I didn’t like what I’d settled on last night. But then I spent a little of my wake-up time (that period of adjustment where I mentally change gears from being a mom to being a software tester) reading other blogs, and something I’ve been hearing for years finally worked its way through to my full attention.
They don’t all have to be home runs. They don’t even all have to be triples, or doubles, or hell, even be hits at all. They don’t all have to be 750-word essays full of insights, illustrated with a cute and well-framed photo, and neatly wrapped up with a witty yet thoughtful conclusion. They should all be good efforts, and they shouldn’t be anything that I’m ashamed to attach my name to, but they don’t all have to be perfect.
(My husband would be applauding me right now, if he were reading over my shoulder, because he’s been trying to get that through to me for years.)
It’s been years since I’ve made real New Year’s resolutions, and longer since I actually published them for others to see. But I’ll put a stake into the ground this year. For 2011, I’m going to try to be less self-critical, and less worried about how others see me. I don’t know how to measure that, and I don’t know whether I’ll be able to stick to it. I do know that when I lighten up, I have more fun with what I’m doing, and feel better about the results regardless of whether they fall short of my bar. So here’s to a new year, and a new chance, and not waiting when I have something to say, and not always looking for the perfect words to leave the proper lasting impression. Sometimes, imperfect is an okay thing to be.
January 6, 2011 at 4:51 pm
Very interesting post. I’m glad you found a job you love. I know I am often too critical of myself and my writing. Writers are their own worst critics after all. Good luck on keeping your New Year’s resolutions.
January 6, 2011 at 11:18 pm
Thank you Haley! I’ve found that a lot of the critical thinking and attention to detail I built up in journalism school can also apply in the world of software as well. It’s been an interesting path.
Good luck to you in the New Year as well.
January 6, 2011 at 8:58 pm
Wow, I can really relate to this post. I enjoy writing as well and share the same self-critical nature you do. Last year my writing really suffered as, well, LIFE happened. Your post has been a bit inspiring, to know other people feel the same way.
Anyways, I won’t take up anymore of your time. 🙂
January 6, 2011 at 11:27 pm
Thanks Jerry! Life sure does have a way of throwing curveballs and getting in the way of more interesting things. I’ve got projects that have been waiting for… well, I don’t know how long now. Here’s hoping we can both get back on track.
January 7, 2011 at 6:33 am
” The bar I set to determine my own success is ten times higher than I’d ever expect from anyone else. I know that setting this kind of expectation for myself is silly and can be self-defeating, yet I do it anyway. ”
You, me, and most intelligent women I know. Why do we do this to ourselves? I think it’s because we’re aware of the possible social consequences if we show failure, or weakness. The repercussions of being Not Perfect are so much more severe for women than they are for men.
January 7, 2011 at 12:45 pm
I think you’re onto something. I know in my field a lot of women have said that they feel more judged if family life imposes on work productivity. If a man leaves work to take a child to the doctor, he looks good for it, but if a women does the same thing, it can be seen as neglecting her job responsibilities.
It feels like women are more critical of other women in many areas than men are of other men. I see it a lot in parenting circles, of course, but it’s cropped up in other places as well (WP being one!)
January 7, 2011 at 6:05 pm
My personal blog’s pretty sloppy; it’s worked out pretty well for me so far. It turns out that most folks who are inclined to read it are similarly inclined to cut me some slack on wording/grammar/understanding of what I’m rambling about/…