I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Barbara’s post from last week, Choosing the Iconic Self, about how women–now freed from the simple definitions of either wife or daughter–struggle to define our authentic Self, and wind up trapped by the iconic image of whatever dream-self we aspire to become, saddling each choice with a hefty helping of extra importance. In particular, Katie’s comment on that post came to mind:
I wonder if some of our frustration is about the fact that it’s virtually impossible to excel at everything–wife, writer, teacher, runner in my case–and so we’re always worried about the area in which we’re not measuring up to our own expectations?
I think she’s absolutely right. And her comment reminded me of something I read or heard or imagined at some point, probably while putting off doing something on my to-do list: that perfectionism begets procrastination–and that this is so because if everything has to be perfect, it’s that much harder to start something, what with the pressure that it be perfect and all.
Thinking about that got me to wondering if that’s why comfort zones so often morph into prisons of our own making: we find something we can do, and we stick with it, because it’s simply easier than considering all the other options out there, hoping to pick the right one, and hoping we can do that well, too.
Which brings me to tennis. (Though I don’t follow tennis, I’d feel remiss writing a post about anything today without mentioning all that went down at the US Open over the weekend. Bear with me.) Kim Clijsters, who won the championship (thanks, in small part, to Serena’s temper tantrum–go here for a sane take), fresh out of retirement, new motherhood, and a 2005 Take-That to those who’d dubbed her The Best Player Never to Win a Major, analyzed her game, telling the New York Observer:
‘I remember Justine [Henin], she was one who could mix her game up even if she was not playing well,’ she said. ‘Someone like [Amelie] Mauresmo, even Venus and Serena, were hard hitters, they can still work their way through matches even when they’re not playing their best tennis. I’m not saying everybody’s like that, but I haven’t seen a lot of girls change their game up a little bit.’
Changing up the game. It worked for her.
But it’s a tricky prospect, not least for the reasons mentioned above. Made trickier, of course, by the way in which women’s steps and missteps are predictably and thoroughly picked apart.
Which brings me to Serena. I’m going light here: in a nutshell, she had a McEnroe-style meltdown, after an unusual call at a critical point in the match–and was subsequently raked over the coals for it, despite the facts that she left the court before going Full McEnroe, issued the requisite apologies, and overall demonstrated that she really does try to do the right thing. But she’s human. And no one’s perfect.
Granted, some are picked apart more than others. But we all get it to some degree. Our foot faults might not be internationally broadcast. They probably don’t inspire a movement on Twitter. But maybe we flunk the class, blow the interview, bungle the presentation, or take a risky career gamble that doesn’t look like it will pay off. And the look from Mom, the raised eyebrow on the other side of the cubicle, the cutting remark from our best friend–they sting too. (Although none quite as much as the disappointment in the face we see in the mirror, as Katie’s comment suggested.) Couple that with our own fears of failure, and it’s a feat not to be paralyzed by angst over perfection, not to stop ourselves before we even dare to start.
By way of inspiration, I’ll end with this choice item, via Feministing’s reportage from the recent “Feminism is a Memory” panel discussion at Omega. When asked “What is the practice or script you use to push yourself past fear?” Gloria Steinem said:
I was too afraid to speak in public until after 30 and finally decided to speak because of the women’s movement and I still was terrified, but I realized if women can’t do anything fucking right anyway, might as well do what you please.