I’m in the fourth week of an advanced dSLR community class and our first assignment — five images of patterns, manual setting — is due tonight. There’s about 35 people of all skill levels in the class and we’re going to spend the evening sharing and critiquing everyone’s work. I really wish now that I had waited to take the class — I’m hopelessly busy with about 20 different projects and while I don’t lack in motivation, I lack the time to shoot really well-crafted images to my standards. I was getting a little stressed last night trying to cram in as many shots as I could before class tonight and I was trying to explain the madness to my husband. “You don’t understand,” I said. “Not only do I have to take five images of patterns, but they have to be the five best images of patterns in the whole class!”
I admit it… I’m a highly competitive person, prone to excess, beholden to the Draconian voice in my head that compels me to be the very best at practically every undertaking I attempt. When I was in undergrad, it wasn’t enough to make the Dean’s list — I had to be the very best and cleverest student that professor had ever had (which probably led to my unfortunate typecast as Suck-Up). My type A personality certainly paired well with my eating disorder. No matter that it had taken more than 20 years to put the weight on, I wanted it off immediately and was hellbent on achieving that goal, health be damned. I constantly pushed myself to run faster, starve longer, burn just 100 calories more — all the while excelling in my undergraduate studies while holding down a full-time job. Even now, years into recovery, I still feel a twinge — okay, more like a maddening compulsion — to outdo my sister-in-law (the diet junk food-munching Weight-Watcherer), who’s recently taken up running. And I don’t even like running!
I’ve self-analyzed my perfectionist and competitive nature with perhaps more scrutiny than Freud ever dedicated to his psycho-babble-sexual theories, and while it may be, in large part, simply my DNA-encoded personality, part of it stems from being growing up a fat kid. The taunts and jeers started in late grade school, picked up steam in junior high and become a daily battleground throughout my high school years. My mom used to be an EMT and I was always fascinated by the stories she’d tell of emergency rescues (I later became an EMT myself), so in middle school, I poured through her EMT training book, absorbing multi-syllabic words I could barely pronounce, let alone knew what they meant, and when other kids would begin to harass me for my weight, I’d throw back insults that often left them scratching their heads in puzzlement. Even with my personal history of more clumsy gaffes and embarrassing blunders than I care to remember, I still have a kind of phobia at being laughed at and it’s this crippling fear, I believe, that lies at the heart of my maddening need for perfectionism.
I’ve come a long way in easing this self-imposed compulsion since entering into recovery for anorexia and bulimia. One of my greatest triumphs, in fact, is that I graduated with my master’s degree only cum laude, and not summa or magna cum laude. Yeah, yeah… I can see some of you rolling your eyes in bemusement, but for me those few tenths of a point meant the difference between a complete nervous breakdown and mere over-exhaustion. When I interviewed for my job several years ago, the news editor asked why I would make a good reporter. “That’s easy,” I said with a laugh. “I’ve embarrassed myself so many times now that I have no problems talking to anyone.” And it’s true — I’ve been able to plunge into my work in even the strangest of situations without that familiar paralyzing fear of appearing stupid or ridiculous. These days, whenever that need to be perfect jackknifes in my brain, I try to stop myself, take a few deep breaths, and mentally repeat, “I do not have to be the best. I do not have to be the best. I do not have to be the best.“ Some days I even believe it.
Okay, so I’m undecided as to the last two images I should share. Again, the assignment was to take five manual setting images of patterns. Here’s the three I’ve decided on (click for larger res images).
And then I have to pick two more from among these images. Which ones do you suggest?