As a child, I was a perfectionist. It’s not so much that I’ve recovered from that condition as an adult; it’s more that I’ve changed my point of view on what is perfect.
Being a little perfectionist, I hated being wrong, and I hated not knowing something. In high school, I was in JROTC, and got a really interesting lesson in being wrong and handling it gracefully. We had to prepare for annual inspections. Part of these inspections involved being able to recite roughly six pages worth of information on command. At best, we had maybe two months to learn the material.
Not being able to recall any of this information on demand resulted in demerits and could actually prevent your being promoted. As a teenager, and a perfectionist, this was my least favorite part of being in JROTC. I was already afraid of being wrong, and now I was being punished severely for being wrong.
During my junior year, someone finally decided that it was inhumane to force us to learn all of this material, so we were told that it was acceptable to respond to a question with, “I don’t know, but I’ll find the answer and get back to you.” The only catch was we actually had to follow-up on it, or risk punishment.
Having that ability was a great relief to my perfectionist teenager mind, but it put me on a path away from being afraid of being wrong. Finally being told that it’s okay to not know everything was one of the most important lessons I learned during high school.
It took a while for me to accept it, but I no longer equate “failure” with not knowing the answer to something. As long as I can find the answer somewhere and get it to the person asking, I accept it as “perfect”.
Originally posted at Collective Genius