Tuesday, May 4, 2021
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The imperfect perfectionist

Nathan Zoschke
Nathan Zoschke

Most personality traits have good and bad points.

Others can make a person miserable, and that’s what perfectionism has done for me.

I get easily irritated when things don’t live up to the expectations I’ve set. I’ve been a clean freak since I was a little kid, a straight-A student since I started school, and have obsessed over my appearance since I was in middle school.

Some people confuse my ambition and perfection with being goal-oriented, when in reality, they are more of a compulsion than anything else.

When people think of a control freak, they usually point to overbearing parents, friends or nosey neighbors who try to micromanage everything about everyone else, using whatever leverage they can to make things the way they want them to be.

I will confess to being a control freak, but I gave up on controlling other people a long time ago when I realized it was a lost cause and I would be better off doing everything I wanted done myself.

I realized this my senior year in high school when I was editor of the school newspaper.

Our journalism teacher was married to our rival high school’s journalism teacher.

Their newspaper was a weekly tabloid about the size of The Pitch. Our newspaper came out once a month, and was printed in a magazine format at the district print shop.

In other words, we sucked.

It stung watching our rival newspaper take first place in the 6A division every year and sitting next to them on the bus on the trip back home

I knew trying to outdo their staff of 60 editors, writers and photographers with our measly staff of 15 was impossible, but I decided we could at least outdo the other three high schools in our district and take the competition to the next level.

It worked, sort of. Except for the fact that I ended up doing most of the paper by myself.

When I saw the articles writers turned in for the first issue, I was in disbelief at the utter crap fest that had unfolded before my eyes.

After heavily editing and nearly rewriting half of the articles to my standards, I was shocked to learn that instead of being grateful, people wanted to know why I had changed what they believed was their “hard work.”

“This is good, but I didn’t write this,” they would say. “Do you even need me if you’re going to change everything I wrote?”

Fine, I thought to myself. I’ll just do this damn paper myself.

I spent every single class period plus hours outside of the class editing and designing the paper, while half of my staff barely showed up and the other half texted friends and played Tetris.

I was happy with the improvements I had made. The paper actually looked good for once, and the writing was pretty solid overall.

In the end, our newspaper won several awards, and I received a scholarship.

But I burnt a lot of bridges along the way, alienating friendships and ruining whatever fun, memorable experience my senior year was supposed to be.

I spent graduation pretending not to be as pissed off and angry as I really was so my dad and aunt could at least enjoy the experience.

Looking back, it’s easy to see how my perfectionism caused everything to be far less than perfect.

Not very many people knew how much effort I spent trying to improve the school paper. And of the people who knew, not very many cared.

I don’t regret my “perfect” vision for the school paper, but I do regret how I went about perfecting it.

In a world of less-than-perfect humans, trying to force perfection on things never intended to be perfect isn’t going to end very well.

It’s easy to lose sight of the larger picture when focusing entirely on minutiae. Unfortunately, that’s what perfectionists do best.

There will always be flaws we see in others, but sometimes, they are not meant to be fixed, and very rarely are they intended to be fixed by one person alone.

At the end of the day, we are accountable for ourselves, and having a good relationship with others is far more important than trying to perfect everything we see as a flaw.

nzoschke@unews.com

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