Discover more from Beck of the Pack
Disliking your flaws doesn't make you a perfectionist, especially when you deny or embrace them
Society is littered with lazy, mediocre performers curiously addicted to the notion of excellence
The image below recently appeared on Instagram. I added red marks to emphasize my confusion, as I have been led to believe that “nonbinary” and “female” are distinct, non-overlapping categories.
Trail Runner Magazine Editor-of-Sorts Zoe Rom wrote a story last year about Marta Fisher, the founder of Women Who FKT. (At one point, the story also seems to describe a second person named Portland Fisher, but this turns out to be the result of a missing comma.)
Trail running is, in Rom’s words, a “male-dominated space” and “an outdoor culture defined by a very male, very old-school definition of excellence and competition.” This was part of Fisher’s impetus for establishing Women Who FKT. Well then, it’s good and just that athletes like Aubri Drake have come along with their new-school definitions of woman and female to help offset this longstanding bane.
From the article:
“Women are not encouraged or taught to expand their comfort zones or think they are capable. It is not uncommon that I am stopped when I am alone on a trail and asking if I am safe, why I am alone, and if I need help,” says Snyder. “This type of message often creates fear and impacts women’s desire to attempt pushing their comfort zone! By creating a group that supports these attempts, and connects those who want to be connected and answers questions, allows for inclusivity and support.”
From this gushing, I extract the idea that men are never supposed to ask women alone on a remote trail who appear to be struggling if everything is okay. If this strikes women as excessive white-knighting, or otherwise too rapey, it is unclear to me what, exactly, male trail runners are supposed to do to diminish the perception of a space dominated by unhelpful males, other than stay out of the woods altogether. This all seems bizarre in the context of a “runners supporting runners” exhortation.
Rom also asserts:
Study after study confirms women’s greater bent than men’s towards perfectionism. Young girls won’t raise their hands to answer a question unless they’re sure they’re correct, and female athletes might not toe the line of a race unless they’re confident they’re fitter and faster than is required. Where men tend to take more risks, professionally and personally, women often hold back until they’re sure they’re qualified.
This is an imperfectly phrased suite of claims, regardless of their truth value. But the thing I’m most struck by is Rom’s apparent concept of perfectionism, a trait I’m assuming she believes drives her own efforts in running and elsewhere.
Zoe Rom makes no effort to be perfect or even good at her job. She treats Trail Runner Magazine like her personal website, and throughout her dilapidated tenure, she has given her own coach—an untrammeled babbling fool recently afforded a TR editorial title of his own—a column so he can be paid to churn out always-unhelpful and often-unreadable content. [Editor’s note: The original version of the previous sentence was unreadable.] She doesn’t edit the articles of others to any appreciable extent. That she is far more activist than editor is confirmed by her treatment of certain males as females; her open disdain for white men is confirmed as hypocritical by the company she keeps.
Rom has admitted that she’ll only make changes aimed at combating global warming when people richer than herself start making the same changes, meaning—and she knows this—“never.” And although she seems more like a frustrated writer of outdoor-situated bodice-rippers than of nonfiction pieces, she’s actually, in my mind, a good writer—but one who herself needs someone to take a long look at what she writes before uploading it for public consumption.
None of these imperfections—and these are outright blemishes, really, maybe even missing digits or entire limbs on bad days—form a rationale for considering someone an evil person. Rom is a product of her times and her environment and clearly doesn’t see conflicts in areas I and others do. And I could use an editor myself most of the time.
What’s grating is the idea that Rom’s apparent stance that she and the cohort of goons she publishes and consorts with are in fact doing their best, or even have an idea of what this would look like. They are completely asea; for starters, they don’t understand the basic difference between looking excellent to as many people in their your own subcultural miniverse as possible and striving for excellence in journalism—a trade that has always revolved around the unapologetic, sometimes bland reporting of even the most troubling facts.
Perfectionism is not rambling on endlessly about the things that most bother you about your body, opposite or indeterminate sexes, or a world imperfectly accommodating of your vision and skill set, and publicly resolving to somehow not remain an emotional wreck anyway. It’s choosing something do to and working toward being the best you can be at it while tolerating zero needless distractions.
I recently referred to the concept of kaizen:
To me, kaizen means striving toward perfection, with the expectation that the real aim is not achieving it but seeing how narrow you can make the sliver between your own efforts and—where no objective standard such as a test score exists—your concept of perfection. The challenge isn’t trying to be perfect at something. It’s knowing you can’t and fighting valiantly against all forms of entropy—people who lack faith in you, sudden health problems, Anthony Fauci—that intrude on this quest.
A good journalist shouldn’t have the primary goal of upsetting people. But a good journalist will invariably do this, and one prone to perfection will respond to this by continuing to do the same work in the same way.
Also hot off the Trail Runner digital presses is a plug for Up to Speed: The Groundbreaking Science of Women Athletes, a book by Christine Yu. Written by Malissa Rodenburg, the plug begins with a series of questions:
What is holding women back from reaching their full potential in sports? Is it the burden of waxing and waning hormones that move the goal posts in every stage of life? Lack of access to gear designed for the female body? Or the notion that women are playing catch up after being discouraged from living an active lifestyle for generations?
Concerning this “females are barred from reaching their full athletic potential” claim: I would ask Rodenburg and Yu the same questions I’d ask fellow “sports aren’t designed with women’s needs in mind” griftress Lauren Fleshman:
Have you looked around at how fast American females are running these days across age categories? If those girls and women are thriving, what have they accessed that others cannot? Why aren’t they complaining nonstop about how much better they could be if only? And why do I never, ever hear people from literally any country in Asia make these kinds of plaintive noises? Is it that those countries lack the cultural incentives that allow people to profit from victimhood?
Yu is part of a circle of contemporary women jogger-scribes united in their ethnic-minority status and antipathy toward meaningful running journalism, including the provision of useful advice with tangible anchoring points. In the lovely summer of 2020, Yu wrote an article about how one of these jogger-scribes, the comically inane Emilia Benton, supposedly overcome overtraining (and a general tendency to overwork herself from her keyboard).
The article contains no information about how much Benton was training either before or after she allegedly overcame running too much. The level of detail goes no further than this: Benton “backed off and chilled out” and “learned that failing is OK.” This is a catastrophic lapse, making the fact that Yu was paid to write a sloppy article about a fellow Wokish person even more glaring.
This—along with Trail Runner as a whole, and the gleefully decrepit coaching operation run by David and Megan Roche—is kaizen with all of its guiding principles and endpoints almost perfectly inverted.
As a younger, outwardly more ambitious person, I was often called a perfectionist. There were only two real reasons for this: I scored astronomically high on standardized tests, and I threw fits when I did something badly. At the age of eight, I used to spend whole afternoons constructing Lego cities, only to quickly destroy the budding metropolis in thirty seconds of flinging and uprooting, all for want of a single four-by-ten flat piece I needed for a roof but had somehow displaced. The sight of the “dead”—little yellow fellows lying amid the rubble—probably would have moved a hard man to tears, but I fed on the rage only a thwarted developer could know.
I have strived for something resembling perfection in different areas at different times, sometimes for a single day, sometimes over extended periods Rarely has this been aimed at convincing anyone else I accomplished anything unbelievable or even unusual given my natural talents and drives. All I really require is that the few people I’m close to whose opinions really count know that, in any shared endeavors or promised favors, I am trying my best when I say that I am. That’s actually hard enough, and worthy enough.
As a child, I realized I was as bad at some things as I was naturally gifted at others. I have had very poor vision in my right eye all my life, and I often wore a patch over my good eye in an outdated effort to correct the vision in the lazy one. I had two eye surgeries as a kid. I really wouldn’t know what proper depth perception looks like, I’m told, even if I understand what this quality means. As a result, I was afraid of a thrown baseball by the time I started school even as I was riding my bike as recklessly as anyone else. I would have made, I believe, a dismal fighter pilot.
Thanks to my combination of easily gaining positive reinforcement in some areas and just as easily becoming frustrated in others (or the same ones), I learned to simply not try things I suspected I would not be naturally good at. This, I should note, covers a shitload of territory. If not for my mother constantly cajoling me into activities and occasionally signing me up for shit. I would not have become a runner. At least not in high school. I was not a naturally gifted runner, although I later proved to have a high tolerance for sheer running steps taken. But this was one thing I was somehow okay with being okay at as long as I could keep getting better. That’s the only reason I ever become a runner anyone thinks was above average.
And I can also see how I have embraced the challenge of overcoming natural handicaps, at least when I have had little or no choice. When I was training to become an Army officer, I had to achieve a certain level of proficiency with an M-16 rifle. I’m right-handed and can’t see well enough out of my right eye to use a rifle sight that way, so I—with almost no relevant experience with long guns coming into this camp anyway—would have to qualify for my marksman’s badge by shooting left-handed. I doubt this would face a sharpshooter much, but I suspect it would be awkward even for regular hunters.
It was awkward for me. And I was as pleased with qualifying for my marksman’s badge—it’s not very difficult under standard conditions—as I was with easily beating the other 350 or so trainees in the two-mile run that once formed a third of the Army Physical Fitness test.
Another thing I insist on trying to excel at despite an uncertain talent level and a late start is keyboard playing. I have been working now for several years on trying to play a perfect version of the same organ solo. It’s about three and a half minutes long, twice as long as the studio version. It requires close to ten key-strikes per second with the right hand, spaced as perfectly apart as possible. The man who wrote the song—which is actually, remarkably, a Bach-like introduction to another song—in the early 1970s, Tom Scholz, is unquestionably a perfectionist of the highest order, but that’s a whole other essay.
In striving to play a perfect version of this song, I’ve discovered that the overall quality of my musicianship has increased dramatically. I took music theory in college and have always had an understanding of music that far outstrips my ability to play. I’m like one of those guys on the Letsrun message board who runs 17:00 for 5K and absolutely loves the sport, elites, training theory, all of it, and continually retweets running content not to be noticed but because he’s enthralled. That guy just might run 15:30 someday if he simply keeps going. And when he does, if you’re a coach, you start wishing you could take whatever is coursing through that guy and inject it into “your” runners, or into yourself so that you could become a better coach.
Editors and writers like Rom, Yu, Benton, the Roches, and others are part of a self-dealing clique. They nonchalantly dismiss criticism in all its forms by filtering it through the age, sex, and “race” of the critic and quickly find a reason to ignore it while demonizing the critic. All of the preaching in the world about Claiming Space and Being Strong doesn’t amount to anything close to a job well done when it’s just a circle-jerk, especially a poorly choreographed one with random ejaculation and female-squirtotic events.
If this is working for them—if remaining resolute in ignorance and using sliming-and-blocking tools as debating devices makes them feel as if their efforts are worthy—great. But if they start complaining about their screw-ups being the result of perfectionism-induced paralysis rather than garden-variety laziness, or complain that the people who built the sport they’ve invaded with their bullshit are villains, it’s time for someone to suggest they admit that they are not experts in anything, not counting riding on a wave of Wokism-catalyzing cash from on high that happened to coincide with their emergence into nominal adulthood.
As Mark Langhorne Shakespeare, playwright and father of the American novel, observed of the first Jewish president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln: “The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”
In other words, nobody’s perfect. But some people recognize how far from any notion of “ideal” their aims and actions are and seek to change this.