On “Near Pressure” and the Quest for Perfection

When I was a kid, I learned all about peer pressure and how to deal with it. At some point, however, peer pressure morphed into what I’m calling “near pressure” (for no other reason than it rhymes with peer pressure). For the sake of these thoughts, I’m defining near pressure as the pressure I feel internally. It’s the pressure I put on myself. It’s the burden of the expectations for myself that I shoulder exclusively. For me, near pressure is about perfection. And because perfection is basically impossible to achieve, there are times when I find this pressure to be particularly excruciating. Like now.

I was taught at an early age to take care of those around me. At the sake of everything else – and particularly myself – it was best if I dropped anything I wanted and/or needed and took care of someone or something else first. Usually, this meant never making it back to whatever it was that I wanted or needed. I was the fixer. I fixed things. I made things better. I made others feel whole. But, in doing so, with each fix, a piece of me broke. Before long, although primarily out of view, the cracks were deep. They are deep.

I want to be perfect. While I know that such a thing is crazy, impossible and silly, it remains. I want to be the perfect, cool dad, but then find myself overreacting to my son when he asks for help with something about which I know nothing. Why? Because I feel like I’m letting him down. And I take it out on him. I don’t mean to. These reactions often surprise me when I have them. It’s not like I was in a bad mood. I can’t fix it. I snap. Near pressure.

I think I’m a somewhat complicated person. But, I wonder if that’s simply because I don’t let myself be what and who I truly want to be. Most recently, after what felt like (yet another) a professional setback, I told a friend that I felt like I was too nice or too naïve. I explained how I have good intentions and I expect people to have the same. And when it’s obvious that they don’t, I often get bitten in the ass. My friend responded, “I don’t think you are too nice or too naive. I think those are your strengths from a spiritual standpoint. It is your relentless idealism and honest transparency that has created all the good in your life. If anything I think the problem occurs when you doubt that part of yourself. You’re not a shark; you’re an artist. You just need to be even more relentless in your idealism.”

I’ve read those words over and over. And over again. It’s the second time in my life that someone has called me an artist. Because I’m drawn to artists, I consider this to be the nicest thing anyone could ever say to me. I’m inspired by artists’ open, honest pursuits of their selves. I’ve written extensively about the way live music moves me – not for the melodies or lyrics, but because of the rawness that comes from putting yourself on stage. Few things amaze me more than a singer songwriter’s ability to get on a stage in front of a sparsely populated room with nothing more than a microphone and guitar and just…sing. That’s an artist and to be thought of in those terms is incredible.

The problem, however, is my inability to let myself be that. My inability to let myself feel that. My inability to feel that I deserve that. I’m far from perfect. Artists are able to turn that into their art. Imperfection is where the music comes from. The passion and pain transformed into chords and choruses, or paintings and pictures. I can’t find the place to let myself be that raw, exposed and free day-to-day, moment-by-moment. The near pressure won’t allow for that. The need for perfection denies it. And my three companions – fear, doubt and judgment – are never far enough away and seem to be at the ready to deflect any acceptance that I might be able to call myself an artist.

The irony in all of this, however, is that my early “training” has provided me with a platform and foundation to help others find their inner artists and pursue their passions. I actually think that I’m a reasonably inspiring person. Even as I doubt myself, I’m able to help others overcome their own doubts. The near pressure makes me feel as though I’m being hypocritical. How can I inspire others to accept their own inner artist if I’m not able to do it myself? How can I show people how amazing they are and how loved they should feel, if such thoughts and feelings elude me? Is that Irony? Maybe it’s just silly. More likely, by helping others (as I was trained), I can deflect anything personal and any attention away from me.

I’ve written before about my personal Kryptonite. My Kryptonite comes in the form of achieving something (or finding some solution), but then being unable to fully appreciate the rewards (in whatever form they may come) because I beat myself up for not finding the said solution earlier in my life. It’s a somewhat horrible burden to bear. Crushing at times. As I’ve also written previously, I have to work very hard to find the good, to feel positive, remember gratitude and remain optimistic. This Kryptonite is part of the reason why. Near pressure.

I’m never going to be perfect. And, logically, I’m okay with that. I completely understand that such a goal is unrealistic and, like I said about the hypocrisy, silly. But, what I can’t figure out and where I struggle most, is why I can’t accept that maybe I am actually something of an artist. (I can’t even write, “I am an artist,” I have to minimize the impact by writing “something of an…” before it.) Why can’t I accept that I’m a lot of different things? Artist. Comedian. Creative. Writer. Frat boy. Passionate. I’m all of these things and yet, I often feel like I’m none of them. What is that all about? I don’t do any of them perfectly. So, I must not really be any of them. Near pressure. It’s not logical, but it is.

As I am to artists, I’m incredibly drawn to people who seem to operate outside of society’s norms. The people who accept themselves for who they are and act (out) accordingly. They operate in a Universe filled by coulds and woulds and turn their back on shoulds. Yes, there are basic societal rules that must be followed, but they manage to do so without sacrificing their passions, their souls. Near pressure seems far off. My God, how do they do that?

Unlike most posts, I have no conclusion to this one. I’m in the midst of this struggle. It’s ongoing. In the meantime, I’m going to go write, “I am an artist” 1000 times.  Maybe I’ll start to believe it. And near pressure be damned.

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