Every now and then I take a trip into crazy land and read Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist blog. It's like a jar of pickled okra for your brain. Healthy, but soaked in brine. Her latest article on perfectionism contains the following statement: "The other huge problem with perfectionism is that people stop learning when they're constantly afraid of being wrong."
Oh wait. She may have a point.
But you see, I have this strategy for learning that involves checking out as many library books as I can cram onto the bookshelf (a hodgepodge of fiction, non-fiction and what can only be categorized as self-help), and then I renew them as many times as I can until another patron puts them on hold. But I don't usually read them. I like to call it immaculate intelligence.
Okay, I admit it. I've stopped learning because I'm constantly afraid of being wrong or of being held accountable for information (equally as scary). One of Penelope's strategies is to allow yourself to be wrong in front of others, but I'm so petrified of looking like an imbecile that I rarely even start to formulate an opinion or a stance to throw out into the ether because I'm so entrenched in survival mode. When people ask me what I think about something, I freeze. Must.not.stand.out. Must.sound.intelligent. Must.make.it.look.like.I.know.what's.going.on. These are the things that go through my head on a regular basis.
The other problem with that stack of library books, or newspapers, or cursed New Yorker magazines is that I see them as a threat to the zero-sum game of maximizing time. If I sit down and read the newspaper, I am informing myself (with the exception of the highly political articles that I often skip or skim halfheartedly. sorry, friends). If I read a book about dogs, I'm giving myself a stronger knowledge base for my business. If I read a New Yorker, I'm giving myself an opportunity to actually join in on conversations that start with "hey did you read that article about X in last week's new yorker..." (this happens on a weekly basis, and I feel like a dunce every time because there are gobs of New Yorkers sitting around the apartment).
The point, in case I haven't beaten it to a pulp yet, is that these are all useful activities. Yet when I'm sitting at home deciding how to spend my time, I feel guilty about reading because it feels like a less than optimal pursuit. Do you know what I do instead? I dither around on the internet. And the whole time I think "I could be researching this book or writing that web content for my business site, but then I won't have any time to do those other 7 things I should be doing."
Oh the irony of maximizing. Because I'm so concerned about spending time on the best (i.e. most useful) activity, I avoid all activities and waste my life sitting on the couch covered in drooling cats and staring at this idiot box. Combine maximizing with a compulsive fear of failure and what do you get? A rambling blog post and a hefty late fee at the library.