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May 13, 2014

What’s Your Fatal Flaw?

Sculpture of Achilles dying with text: What's Your Achilles Heel?

When we write, we try to give our characters both strengths and flaws. Giving our characters a mixture makes them seem more real, more three-dimensional. Finding a balance often means exploring the thin line between strengths and flaws.

A helpful character could easily step over the line to interfering. A protective character could become controlling. Love could turn into obsession. Etc., etc.

Of course, the fact that characters seem more real when they have a mixture of strengths and flaws reflects that we are also a mixture of strengths and flaws, and sometimes our flaws hold us back. A week ago, I came face-to-face with one of my strengths that crossed a line.

Introducing…Me

I’m a first-born child, and like many firstborns, I have a strong sense of responsibility, determination, independence, etc. In other words, I possess several traits that can add up to the flaw of perfectionism. No surprise there.

Over the years, I’ve managed to temper my perfectionism with a need to actually get things done and not just fiddle with it endlessly. On an Enneagram test, two of my highest traits are the Type One (Perfectionist) and Type Three (Achiever).

Those two qualities balance each other out so I recognize my perfectionism as wishful thinking and it doesn’t hold me back. Even before I ever heard of Enneagram tests, I called myself an over-achieving perfectionist. So far, so good.

However, traits like responsibility, determination, and independence can also make me stubborn. Especially when it comes to thinking that I should be capable of doing something. *smile*

In most cases, I can learn to do something I didn’t previously know, and that flaw isn’t a problem. Or if I’m not passionate about doing something myself, I’m fine with handing off control to someone else.

However, what happens when I refuse to admit that I can’t learn something and I want to be able to do it? In a word: trouble.

Meet the Klutz Queen…also Me

I was the kid who hated gym class because I sucked at every sport. I’m the woman who isn’t coordinated enough to drive a stick shift car. In fact, as I learned last week, I’m the character we all scream at in a horror movie when they fall in front of the monster for no reason: “Don’t be stupid! Get up! Run!”

That’s right. I’m the one who would be left behind in the zombie apocalypse for being too much of a liability. *nods*

Despite being a klutz my entire life, I’m still not careful enough with my movements to avoid issues. As I mentioned a year ago, I’ve broken the same toe three times.

So a week ago Sunday, I was running down the stairs—in the dark, no less—because… I don’t know. I’m an idiot? I refuse to accept my limitations? I prefer to think of myself as graceful or superhuman? All of the above? *sigh*

Suffice it to say that my inability to accept my limitations is my fatal flaw. (And in this case, my refusal to be careful really was nearly fatal.) I fell down the stairs. Big time.

I managed not to pitch forward onto my head or anything, but I did tear my ankle. No bones are broken according to the x-ray, but I ripped the soft tissue (tendons, ligaments, etc.).

The doctor actually told me that I’d have been better off to break a bone because the soft tissue will take a lot longer to heal. No such luck to have only broken a bone.

One Flaw Leads to Another

Now I’m in a wheelchair and can’t put any weight on that foot, probably for a month. Now imagine me, the Klutz Queen, trying to navigate with crutches or balance on one leg for those times when you have to stand, and keep in mind my independent streak, and you can probably guess my level of frustration.

For someone who judges herself on how much she accomplishes, it’s debilitating to not be able to do everything, and I hate being a burden to my family. So I struggle for five minutes to get the wheelchair lined up just right to be close enough to reach inside the refrigerator and not so close that I can’t open the door.

Yeah, stubborn. *smile* I won’t ask for help unless I really think I can’t do something, or if I think I won’t put someone out too much by asking.

The lovely green bruises across my ankle and foot curve around to cover my Achilles tendon too. Isn’t that symbolically appropriate? *snicker*

So this past weekend, I had a little fun analyzing myself with Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus.

From The Positive Trait Thesaurus:

  • “Challenging Scenarios for the Independent Character: Incurring a debilitating injury that requires help from others (having to learn to walk again, etc.)”

From The Negative Trait Thesaurus:

  • “Stubborn: Associated Behaviors and Attitudes: Not asking for help when one needs it”

Yep, it’s challenging all right, and my stubbornness isn’t helping. I was near tears almost constantly last week. Now at least I’m starting to see enough progress that I hope to start the first phase of physical therapy (non-weight-bearing stretches) next week.

Wish me luck—both for my injury and for being able to ask for and accept help. If I’m smart, I’ll stop being my own worst enemy. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll also learn to accept my limitations and be more cautious so I stop injuring myself with klutz moves. *smile*

Do you have strengths that sometimes cross the line into flaws? Do you have flaws that hold you back? Do you have flaws you wish you didn’t? Do you know why you have those flaws? Do you have flaws that you accept because you want the strength that comes with it?

Photo Credit: Rose Meschi
(Dying Achilles at Achilleion, Corfu. Sculptor: Ernst Herter, 1884.)

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Kristin Nador

Jami, so sorry for your accident, and big hugs and prayers for your quick recovery. Ankle and foot stuff is very painful! I am feeling your pain right now, both figuratively and literally, as I have developed a pretty severe case of plantar fascia tis in my right foot from our move to Kentucky, and have torn some muscles/ligaments in my left hip, so it ‘gives out’ when I put weight on it.

The pain is terrible, but the frustration at not being able to get my to-do list done daily is more excruciating for this perfectionist as well. I have to ask my husband to help me with all kinds of things, and like you, I am just stubborn enough to wait to ask for help until there’s no other option.

I guess we need to dial our character trait back until it is more strength than weakness, although I think perfectionism is a swinging pendulum of strength and weakness. Easier said than done, yes?

Have you had to ride in the motorized cart at the grocery store yet? For some reason that is the worst for me, because it goes so slow and I want to get things done NOW! Thinking happy thoughts for your quick and full recovery. 🙂

Jami's Tech Guy (Jay)

Ouch! I hope you were properly thanked for saving all those orphans you pulled out of the collapsing building. o_O

Glad you’re putting your stubbornness into doing the right things to ensure it heals properly and (more) quickly.

My hopefully -not- fatal flaws are:
my quick wit – it’s often faster than my brain filter and
my genetic flaw…an Irish-Italian temper.

They combine in a bad way when I’m worn out.

Thank goodness for the quick wit also being a strength as between it and being fleet of foot, I can either talk or RUN my way out of trouble. 🙂

-Jay
@jaytechdad
http://techsurgeons.com/

katje
katje

Oh no! I’m so sorry that happened — that truly is terrible. I hope you heal soon. I sprained my ankle right before T-day last year — I was *so* mad that happened.

My fatal flaw is probably how obsessive compulsive I am about things that probably don’t matter at all.

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Yikes, I’m sorry to hear that, Jami. 🙁 Get well soon! Hmm my fatal flaw? I’m pretty sure I have very many, but one that sticks out to me is that I tend to care more about my productivity than about my health. So I basically treat myself as a machine I use to complete things I want to complete, so often I have to have my body force me to stop working (e.g. eyes get too tired that I really can’t take it anymore.) Note that this is NOT the “I work too hard” syndrome. Rather, it’s my desire to get more things that I LIKE done. So it’s about wanting to finish these books I enjoy, or finish this big scene in my story that I love. So it’s not about hard WORK. It’s about doing what I enjoy and completing my most beloved projects. Another fatal flaw I can think of so far, is that I’m a bit too soft. I’m one of those people who are used to being friendly and pleasant to people (or as much as possible), so it’d be hard for me to switch over to commanding/ demanding/ sticking up for myself against unreasonable people mode. I mean, I COULD try to act strong and stern in these situations, but I’m rather short (small, sigh), and people all say I look really harmless. -_- So this look is useful in making me look approachable to people (a number of friends have told me…  — Read More »

Marcia Richards

Oh, Jami, I’m so sorry you’re hurting. I know exactly how frustrating that can be. Last September I turned my ankle on…nothing. Terrible sprain. I was on crutches for weeks and refused to let my hubs help me. So we have that klutzy stubborness in common.
One of my strengths is my positive nature but it can be overdone and make someone else feel as though I’m minimizing their struggles, which I really don’t intend. I’m a perfectionist as well and like to get things done fast. Speed and trying to be perfect don’t always work well together…it can end up a mess.
Heal fast!

CM Skiera
CM Skiera

Hope you heal up quick, Jami! Get on you feet again soon!

CM Skiera
CM Skiera

Please excuse the ‘e’. My sister-in-law is a Jaime (with an e) and it’s force of habit.

Anne R. Allen

So sorry to hear about your accident! I totally relate. I’m a firstborn too. And a klutz. And don’t accept my limitations. I sprain ankles and knees with regularity. (And they do often take longer to heal than a break!)

And gym class? The only time I got an “A” in gym was the year I sprained an ankle on the second day of the semester I was supposed to learn to play basketball, and they gave me a written test on the rules of basketball instead. 🙂

becca puglisi
becca puglisi

Oh, Jami. That sucks. It’s so frustrating to be limited in such a big way. I have a lot of flaws but the most difficult one is probably selfishness. I think, ironically, that this started when I had kids. Going from being totally unencumbered to having no free time whatsoever kind of pushed me into this place of guarding my “me” time like a dragon. And that has leaked over into other areas. It’s something that I’m not proud of and I’m constantly fighting.

Angela Ackerman

I hope your ouchie gets better quickly Jami! And I am secretly pleased you use the PA & NT to self analyze, because it makes me feel so…NORMAL! (Becca and I did a TON of this while writing the books, haha!) I know those books are for fiction, and that’s how they should be used (Neither Becca nor I have psychology degrees, just a passion for psychology). But great characters are patterned after real life, and so there are many parallels between the fiction and real world. Our characters have arcs, and we have a life journey full of opportunities and challenges. We both have needs and desires, goals and fears. We’re both looking to find out place in our world, and understand ourselves better. 🙂 I actually learned a lot about myself and my family dynamics through writing these books. I have some big flaws, and I know exactly where they came from. case in point, I am my kids’ advocates ALL THE TIME. To a fault. I am always taking their side in family disagreements, I am always trying to help them, make life easier, do things for them and protect them. I give them loads of responsibility and have high expectations for respect too, but I can see that by trying to make life easier and by always fighting for them, I might make it harder for them when they get into the real world. They need to learn how to fight their own battles, and how…  — Read More »

Taurean Watkins

First, feel better, Jami and don’t be so hard on yourself. No matter how “kltuzy” you think you are, we all get hurt sometimes. Well trained ballet dancers still fall like everyone else, you know? For me, I’d sure love someone to tell me what the upside of anger is. No, I don’t mean that movie with Kevin Costner, I really mean, what is the upside of anger? Anger has only caused pain to me and others. What’s positive about anger? What’s uplifting about impatience? Who thought it was a good idea for kids to be “college ready” by kindergarten!? (Not related to the previous two, but I do wonder that) I know neither you nor anyone can answer these questions, but they’re on my mind, with my birthday tomorrow, which is an uneasy time for me. I want so bad to be happy about it, and I know I’ve made progress, but can’t help feel frustrated with where some aspects of my life are at right now. No amount of telling myself “It could be worse” will make that feeling go away. Even if I’m not alone feeling the frustration, most people I know can hide it far better than I can… I know you at times lament your stubbornness, but try having raging crying spells for days on end. That hasn’t happened to me lately, but I’ve been there, and trust me, willing yourself out of it isn’t always possible. (Much to the dismay of my family) It’s…  — Read More »

Kerry Gans

Ouch, Jami! Goodness, heal quickly! And you will be surprised at how fast you adapt to the wheelchair and crutches. Hang in there!

My fatal flaw I guess could be called “concentration” (although I totally feel you on the perfection-achiever thing). The good thing is I can concentrate when I need to. The bad thing is I often concentrate to the exclusion of other things that need my attention. When your daughter’s Mother’s Day Card says that “Mommy’s favorite thing is working on her computer.” it really hits home. It’s just so hard for me to shift tracks once something has my deep attention!

Feel better soon!

Carradee

Ouch, Jami! *hugs* Sprains are one thing I’ve fortunately never experienced…though I do have a tendency toward microfractures in the wrists. I’ve even cracked my wrist with wrist guards on.

I suspect I only avoided sprains by willing to let myself collapse in gym class if my ankles or knees gave out. (It happened in elementary school—usually my knees, but sometimes my ankles, would randomly give out while I was running. I figured out early that letting myself fall hurt less than fighting it.) I would warn gym teachers, but some didn’t believe me. I remember at least one accusing me of doing it as an attention grab. I don’t remember how I convinced them otherwise, but I remember having done so.

By the time I hit middle school, the collapsing had stopped. I suspect a nutritional deficiency had been at fault—it improved after Mom married and we got off welfare.

As far as fatal flaw… The one that, every so often, leads to someone telling me off is my detail-oriented logic. If you make a generalization, my mind immediately jumps to exceptions. If you say something, I will often think of holes or gaps in it immediately. And my sense of humor is very dry. Some people feel as if I’m calling them an idiot and get offended even by my jokes.

Carradee

Oh, meant to add: The “fatal flaw” that causes me the most problems as a person, though, I think is the “Peacemaker” trait. I’m both a “peacemaker” and a “helpful” type—which gets awkward when keeping the peace isn’t what’ll be helpful. But I’m a Peacemaker to the point that, since my family yells at me whatever I do, I give them reasons, like leaving things a bit messy, even though I would rather things not be so messy. It’s extremely difficult for me to clean even my own apartment, because I’m naturally a bit perfectionistic about it, but I’m conditioned to leave things sloppy, because that’s the main time I get lambasted with cause. And then I have adrenal issues, which leave me with minimal stamina. So since any major cleaning/organization effort takes stamina to overcome the psychological/emotional aversion to it, once I’ve managed to get myself to start, I have very little juice left over for doing it. (And if family decides to “help”, they have a knack for completely ignoring or undoing or messing up whatever organization I have set up, which has left me with a gut-deep “What’s the point?” emotional attitude about organizing my things. If a friend needs help organizing her yard sale bags, I can easily do it, but my own? So difficult. I know it sounds as if I’m blaming my family for everything, but…that reaction really is a control thing. If my space is a disaster*, at least I have some control…  — Read More »

Carradee

Note: I’m also a firstborn, but my brother’s only about a year and a half younger. My mother’s from a family of 6, where she was the oldest girl (family was 3 boys then 3 girls), and my father’s from a family of 3 boys, where he was the youngest.

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

YIKES!
I’m so sorry about your ankle 🙁 I hope you get better soon and hope your stubbornness abates enough to be able to ask for help 🙂
Hmmm, my one MAJOR flaw right now (in addition to soooo many others that I don’t have time to name) is over-eating. For a year now I’ve been scarfing food like I’m going to the chair…I’ve gained a metric ton and had no time to exercise. I’ve tended to eat and eat and eat until I felt sick.
Now, I know I’ve been through a lot over the past year and eating has given me some comfort, but it’s also given me extra stress. I can’t look at myself in the mirror without cringing and I’m so out of shape I wheeze walking the dog.
My flaw? I need to give myself a little break and stop being such a perfectionist (I’m in that boat, too) It’s okay, or should be okay, for now, how I look. What shouldn’t be okay is my health (or sudden lack of it) I don’t need to diet and exercise to look good in skinny jeans, what I need to do is FEEL good again. That’s what I need to focus on, feeling good, healthy, both physically and mentally. I think that exercising and eating smarter for the RIGHT reasons is the way to go.
Boy…I got off topic and kind of meandered all over the place, didn’t I?
Sorry I’m late in commenting 🙂
Hope you get well sooooooooooooon!
Hugs,
Tamara

Renee Regent

I hope it heals quickly and you are up and about soon! I have thrown my bad knee out a few times, and it is months of semi-helplessness, so I can relate. I am a first born, stubborn, over achiever, too, so that scenario is tough for us. But determination will get you through, and maybe you will have more time to write! At least is was an ankle and not a wrist!

Daphne
Daphne

I’m sorry you’re going through all that, Jami. I certainly can relate as I ice my foot, confident I’ve broken a couple of toes…again. Our strengths can support/ encourage our weaknesses. Perfectionism keeps my mind running, thus I’m alway distracted and don’t focus on small tasks like avoiding furniture. *raises a fist in solidarity* I too am the first born (but raised as an only), p

I’m wishing you a speedy recovery. Thanks, as always, for a thought provoking post.

Glynis Jolly

Here I thought I was so unique but, Jami, I am so much like you it kind of blows me away. According to that test, I’m a type 5 and wings are balanced. Me balanced? Who would have thought…

Laurie Evans

Ow, sorry that happened! I hope you can heal quickly. I hate being helpless in any way.

And, I have to stop rushing around. I’m very klutzy and get hurt when I rush around.

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[…] might be easier to say what I’m not working on. As I mentioned last week, I’m recovering from a severe injury to my ankle that has me in a wheelchair and focused on several-times-a-day physical therapy. So circumstances […]

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