Since the time I had access to paint or a pencil, I loved to draw. I showed every drawing, doodle, scribble, and painting I created to the entire world. These messes on paper communicated my emotions and parts of my imagination that were indescribable. The energy rushing from my head to my hands to the pencil to the paper gave me a sense of control and empowerment at an early age.
When I grew older, people gifted me books that taught me helpful techniques; I nonstop practiced on every surface I could find for hours on end. All the doodle books instilled one message: practice makes perfect.
As many years went by, fewer of my drawings were shown to the people around me; somewhere along the practice and education, I realized the difference between “good” and “bad” art. The world preferred the good drawings. The bad drawings were left for my own practice and to be learned from. From here on, each detail I drew stood out to me as if my eyes were magnifying glasses. It all had to be perfect. The colors, the pencil strokes, and the choice of paper all made my brain hurt, stopping the flow of ideas to that paper.
I practiced and practiced but perfect never came.
In elementary school this pattern showed up again; if one answer in my math packet was wrong, I studied that one problem for hours to ensure never to make the same mistake again. If a science concept confused me, my textbook would be my best friend for hours.
Next test I had would always produce a better grade than the previous, and that now controlled and empowered me.
Beginning sophomore year, my teachers began to see an issue in school; I would hand in assignments days late or not at all. Even after I completed them, something always felt off. The essays, powerpoints, and projects could be better. I wanted a good grade because it would make me proud of myself and it would make me happy, so of course I strived for perfection. The essays and drawings that were supposed to be personal and from my imagination became programmatic and unnatural because sentence structure became more important than the meaning. Sometimes a finished essay did not feel good enough so I would just delete it and forget about the assignment in all. I obsessed over every single detail that no matter what, I was unhappy with the work itself.
“Perfection was the only answer. Mistakes were the enemy. And practice makes perfect,” repeated in my head. This expectation for my work to be flawless was the peak and downfall of my work ethic.
To outside sources, it was great. I looked good on paper. I received good grades. I did well in school. To me, every time I started a new assignment, the entire English language, every number or math symbol, ever color, line stroke, or science concept, bombarded my mind and the only escape from the confusion and raincloud of thoughts would be to stop. Stop writing, stop doing math, stop reading, stop drawing, and stop thinking. I avoided and procrastinated to deal with the anxiety and stress of perfection. My work was not shown to anyone because it was either “bad” or nonexistent. Although this habit produced strong grades, it drained all my energy, and still does.
I wish I could rewind back to being the free kid who painted scribbles without thought. But time travel does not exist, so I just have to learn from that kid. I need to be empowered by my own thoughts, not by the resulting grades. Rather than caring about the facts and programmatic structure of art, science, and math, the meaning is truly more important.
A very basic point in science is that nature is unpredictable and imperfect; as cheesy as it is, no animal is the same, no snowflake is the same, no person is the same, but they all work together in nature. Nothing must be perfect because nothing is perfect.
I have the power to create the ugliest and most imperfect painting, so I will. I mean, Jackson Pollock splatter paint and Picasso painted thick random lines and they are renowned artists.
Teena Moya is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with five classmates.