Perfectionism

River is furiously pulling at the leash, trying to drag a human nearly three times her weight down the street by a belt loop. She is a cattle dog, which means she is always busy, she always has somewhere to be and something to do with 110% of her attention. If she is not feverishly working on some problem that she has created for herself, she is sleeping.

She is exactly like me.

I have been a perfectionist since my earliest memories. I need constant stimulus. I need to be busy, gnawing on some issue, real or imaginary (if there is nothing wrong, I will create elaborate fantasy problems and spend hours, days, months working on them). Always.

Last weekend something strange happened. I was climbing Mount Saint Helens with a friend and we turned around before the summit. I was not upset. I was perfectly happy stopping at our turnaround time, enjoying a short break, and then dancing through the dense powder that cushioned our descent.

It was a bluebird day with a hard ascent, dreamy descent, and fabulous company. I was delirious with delight.

It was incredible, as I have spent my entire life striving to meet my goals, agonizing about the possibility of failure before, and then cruelly beating myself up for not being perfect, whether or not I achieved my goal. I have spent my entire life pushing the people around me to be better than they possibly can be and torturing myself and them in the process.

Something has changed, slightly. And I think I can be pinpoint the moment: Rainbow Dash broke her toe in the High Sierras. She limped, in excruciating pain, to Rae Lakes. We stayed there for four days. I was worried, watching myself for my usual signs of exasperation and disappointment. The feelings didn’t come. Instead, I spent time with one of my favorite people in the world, reading and sitting and sleeping and eating. It was heaven. It was actual perfection, and I had nothing to do with me trying.

River stops, abruptly, realizing she has to pee that exact second. She squats with extreme purpose—I’ve never seen a deeper squat in a dog—just like she does with everything. And then, enthralled, she sniffs some exquisite smell in the dirt until I finally pull her away.

Perhaps the takeaway is simple—to be wholeheartedly obsessed with the task at hand. Perfection is as easy to achieve as thoroughly enjoying the very moment I’m in.

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