by Erika L. Sánchez
I feel a constant need to be perfect. When I think of my compulsion, I remember the Simpson episode “The PTA Disbands” in which the teachers go on strike and little Lisa is so frantic that she pulls out her emergency school kit. The lack of validation causes her severe distress and she spends the entire episode worried about the lack of grading and the decline of her perspicacity. I completely empathize because I’m a 28-year-old Latina Lisa Simpson.
It took many years to understand this part of myself. A few months ago, my therapist asked me a question about my childhood and my constant need to overachieve. I thought about it for a moment.
“I’m a validation whore,” I said. “And nothing I do is good enough for me.” It was liberating to admit this, to say it out loud.
I suppose that although this trait is unhealthy, at least it doesn’t depend on male attention, sex, or my physical appearance. I won’t be acting out by developing an eating disorder, doing drugs, or dating a bunch of scumbags. This kind of self-destruction is actually good for my career!
My anxiety stems from a few places. The origins, like most psychological problems, originate in my childhood. I was a weird little girl who grew up in an urban working class Mexican community. I was a loner who read books during recess. I loved poetry, feminism, and politics. While most of my peers wore basketball jerseys and sneakers, I wore combat boots and dorky vests. My parents didn’t understand me either. They didn’t know how to deal with such an odd daughter.
Because of this overwhelming rejection, I focused all of my attention and energy on writing. I will honestly say that writing literally saved my life. Poetry was one of the only positive things I was recognized for. I was clearly talented and many people noticed. My teachers were always impressed and many of them encouraged me. Though my self-esteem was awful, at least I was proud of my poetry.
Even now, my self worth depends almost entirely on my work. If I’m not working on something, I feel like a useless hunk of garbage. And when I’m not writing, I’m thinking about it. Though my primary reason for writing is to create beauty and awareness, and I spend most of my time and effort trying to perfect my craft, I also have the incessant compulsion to publish and be recognized. The awkward girl from Cicero is now insisting: World, you will pay attention to what I say, goddamn it.
My unease is also simply a result of being a woman of color in this country. I don’t feel sorry for myself or let this deter me in any way, but I do recognize that I have to work a lot harder than other people to be taken seriously. My name itself brings so much baggage. Because of this, I feel the need to write and speak perfectly. If I misspeak, I imagine people dismissing me entirely: Oh, she must not speak English very well. It must be her second language. If I have a typo or grammatical mistake in any of my work, I imagine people thinking that I must be an uneducated Latina. When I submit work for publication, I want it to be so perfect that no one can possibly reject it. I always try to as be articulate as possible and have attempted to erase any vestige of my Chicago Mexican accent (there is such a thing, believe me). In a sense, I simultaneously honor and annihilate that weird girl from Cicero.
Like always, my feelings are complex and difficult to untangle. On one hand, I wish I didn’t feel such pressure to excel all the damn time. It’s draining and no matter what I achieve, it’s never enough. On the other hand, this constant stress is what has gotten me this far. I wonder if the adult Lisa Simpson will give herself a break. The Mexican saying te chingas o te jodes comes to mind, and I wonder if I will ever find a balance.