You are holding the pen wrong

A story about inhibited perfectionism

Welcome to Unsetting Expectations—a newsletter for high-performing, high-achieving, perfectionist workaholics grappling with issues of never feeling satisfied, always working crazy long hours, and not feeling proud of their accomplishments, written by Franka Grubisic.

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Note: All of my writing is published unedited, & for a reason. I want you to experience my exact, raw thought process as this ensures that you get the most open, true & honest version of me at all times. I only have one rule when writing: the pen never stops touching the paper.

Did you know that there is only one way, the right way, to hold a pen?

Since I was probably 4 or 5, I’d listen to: “You’re holding your pen wrong!” Really? Isn’t what’s most important is that I’m ABLE TO WRITE? No? Okay…

You see, I have very long fingers. And if you didn’t know this, THIS is the only way you should ever hold a pen:

However, this comes very unnaturally to me and makes both my fingers and wrist become stiff. So, my body adapted to the task of writing and has been holding the pen like this:

But this was not satisfactory for anyone. How could I hold the pen wrong?! What would people think of me…

My A grades weren’t important, nor my extracurricular success. I was holding the pen wrong.

I’ve been faced with many similar situations in my life. I was holding the cello bow wrong - my fingers, again, weren’t perfectly straight; so automatically, I can’t be a good cello player. When I started the piano, my wrist-to-knuckles line wasn’t perfectly straight eighter. I could’ve played the entire song perfectly, it wouldn’t have mattered. It wasn’t enough.

As I was growing older, I’d see people like Maksim Mrvica, a piano genius, or Luka Suljic, a cello virtuoso also not having the perfect form and pose. But there they are - doing what they love and being famous for it.

I wonder if anyone ever continuously told them that they’re holding the pen wrong.

I’ve quit music school in 2012, after 7 of toxicity. After being told not to “torture myself” through it if I’m not planning on applying for the music academy. If you’re not going all the way, why go at all, right?

The same way, in 2005, I was told NOT to enrol music school in the first place because my voice “sounds like a sheep”. I never fit the box. I was coloring out of lines. Yet, I was the best performing music theory student, and my choir won 2nd place in the state championship tournaments 3 out of 4 years I was in it.

Today, I feel robbed of the many possibilities of my music & other careers, which society’s taken away from me by making me not fit in because of conventional rules.

I also feel sad that I’ve allowed myself that the opinions of others create an aversion towards the things that I loved. But similarly, I need to remind myself that it wasn’t only their opinions - it was the systematic abuse and oppression, which took a lot of courage, strength, and willpower to put up with in the first place.

This inhibited perfectionism continues to follow me throughout my life - the ‘never enough’. Until recently, I thought that it’s my fault. Now, I begin to realise that I’ve been conditioned by society and I’m working towards dismantling these imprints.

I encourage you to reflect on what your self-doubt is worrying about and see if you can find similar situations that would lead to it in your own life?

I’d love it if we could do a little experiment and see how all of you are holding your pens! Tweet me at @franka_grubisic or tag me on your Instagram story @franka_grubisic so I can see!

If this issue has inspired you to explore your internal inhibited perfectionism in some way, do let me know by replying to this email or:

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And if you're keen to learn more about never feeling enough, keep your eyes peeled for the next issue. Don’t forget to sign up to join the journey if you haven’t already by hitting the button below ⤵️

Lastly, if you are willing, you can support me in the writings of this newsletter by buying me a doughnut 🍩. Why a doughnut, you may ask? Well, in my native language, 'doughnut' is spelled: 'krafna', which makes it an anagram of my name; Franka. And if there was such a thing as a power animal, but for food, I'd be a doughnut.

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Until then, take good care and have a lovely week 💛