Hello, Perfection. We’re old adversaries, you and me. You’re what I was supposed to be, remember? You bastard. You were what they expected out of me for over thirty years, and I realized eventually that I couldn’t deliver.
Lord knows I tried, of course – even as a young child, I wanted to measure up and be everything they wanted me to be. I never could be you, even if I wanted to be; and after a while, I stopped wanting to be you. Sad, isn’t it? Especially because that little voice inside me kept reminding me that I needed to be you. The external voices never asked me to be Perfection, but I always knew what they were asking me to be.
I was never as good as they said I was, because I knew they wanted me to be more than I was. Yes, I know that makes no sense. If it made sense, they wouldn’t call me crazy. I got into vet school, and it got worse; I went from being one of the smart kids to being below average. Do you have any idea how much that hurts, Perfection? Do you have any idea what that does to a guy’s self worth?
Do you want to know the worst bit? I emotionally knew that I needed to be you, but intellectually I knew I couldn’t be. So I had an enormous problem doing stuff, because I knew that somewhere, someone would judge my efforts, and find me wanting. So I didn’t do it for as long as I could. Think that’s crazy? It totally is.
Fear of judgment is one of the driving things behind humanity, and veterinarians especially. It’s a strange logic – if you don’t do it, they can’t judge your work, right?
Listen, I know that doesn’t make sense – deal with it.
I still like to make jokes about how my wife’s only flaw is that she has no taste in men. Of course it’s a joke – except that on some level, there’s truth there; if I didn’t feel it, I wouldn’t say it.
You’ve got a lot to answer for, Perfection. Andy Roark asked me to write something for his website months ago, and I got hugely excited about that. I have massive respect for who he is and what he’s done, and I had half a dozen ideas about what to write for him. Then I saw the first few articles on his website that other vets have written for him at his request, and holy smoke. They were sensational articles. Perceptive, emotional, and heartrending insights into someone’s soul. So I fell right back into my old habits, and ran away. I agonized about what I could write to measure up – sound familiar?
I’m worse than Ged the Sparrowhawk in that respect – running away never works. I moved to Hungary for vet school; you were there waiting for me. I qualified and moved to Saudi Arabia to work in private practice, you followed me. Funny how you seemed to get a visa easier than I did; you were there waiting for me when I got there. I had a perfectionist boss there, which didn’t help.
I ran away to England after 3 years, and found a job in private practice there. You get around, Perfection – or maybe you just have an English cousin that you phoned up to have waiting for me at the airport. I held out another 2 years and moved out of vet practice because I needed a break, full stop.
Boy, you really laid it on thick, then – there’s quite a guilt trip about leaving vet practice when you’ve worked for years to get there! But it was worth it; I had kids that needed me. I finally got professional help like I should have gotten 15 years before, but who likes admitting they have a problem? Remember me, the guy who doesn’t like to get judged? I didn’t want anyone judging me. Yes, now I know that therapists don’t judge you; it would have been nice to know this 15 years ago.
You know what happened? A lot of emotions I thought I’d walled up next to a cask of Amontillado broke out and messed with me a lot. (Look, I had English teachers for parents, not scientists. I grew up with languages and literature, not science!)
I’m better now, thankfully. My wife is the mast that keeps my sails from flying off into the breeze, and my kids seem to like me, which means I’m still fooling them – nice, eh?
I’m glad I got the help I needed, but I’m still out for revenge; you messed my life up and I know you’re messing with the lives of millions of other people.
So I’m serving notice on you, Perfection. I’m not running anymore. I’m hunting.
And when I catch you…
…you’re gonna get what you deserve.
Dr Mark Hedberg is a veterinarian, speaker, and author. Born in the USA, he qualified as a vet in Europe, and worked as a veterinarian in the Middle East and the United Kingdom. So he’s seen the veterinary profession on at least three different continents, which is one of the reasons he’s involved in new graduate support and helping colleagues through tough times. His website is at www.expatvet.com.