The entire crowd was screaming out of control, only it wasn’t for me—it was because I’d failed—fallen, lost control and let it show—I’ll never forget that day. I was either in 6th or 7th grade at the time, on stage in front of an auditorium full of kids, dancing with two other girls. We’d put together a routine for a talent show in in a short amount of time, nevertheless, when we hit the stage, each of us seemed confident and prepared. But then something fell apart—during one of our spins, my two comrades turned left, while I twisted right (or vise versa) and that was the beginning of my end.
With one misstep, the tank that carried the certainty I’d walked on stage with was punctured, and then all was subsequently drained. Though I tried, I could not manage to get back in synch with my partners—frustrated and embarrassed, there was nothing left to do but exit the stage. No big deal right? Wrong! If you know anything about kids, or more specifically, the typically immature, identity seeking, hormonally imbalanced, morally confused youths of pubescent age—they sometimes have the propensity to be mean, if not cruel. I knew this somewhat, watching bullies and mean girls from afar (I typically managed to stay above the fray), this day however, I could not escape. Seeing my unraveling casused the entire crowd to cheer, and when I left the stage, their applause turned into a full blown roar.
Not only was I devastated and humiliated more than I’d ever been in my young life,I carried that experience with me for years. As a result, a defense mechanism kicked in– perfectionism: On those occasions when I would put myself out there, I’d make sure that what I presented was polished; if I spoke out, I’d check, and then double check my facts. If I put my name on something, you best believe it was good and for years I wouldn’t even go outside unless my hair and clothes were without flaw! For all intents and purposes, my diligence appeared to work—on the surface at least. I was never again humiliated or laughed at like I was on that stage.
On the flip side, however, perfectionism summons another beast; beneath the surface of every person with this trait, lies things not readily seen: like overthinking, procrastinating, self-doubt, worry, and overextending– which all leads to as much angst as it does stress. Just visualize someone climbing a mountain that stretches beyond the sky—even though they’ll likely never reach the top, a perfectionist’s quest to be great in all things and to present themselves (or their work) without flaw, drives them to trudge ahead, even though the journey is in vain.
I eventually learned this lesson and was able to free myself of this mental cage– partly; I say that because my estimations tell me that perfectionists are similar to people addicted to alcohol or drugs—once that flip is switched, perfectionists will always struggle with temptation or relapse, which begs the need for them to stay consistently on guard. What I am today, is reformed, not cured. I still have to stop myself from mauling over details and obsessively splitting hairs. I do this by much positive self-talk, which is how I push myself to step out at the point of good (reminding myself that good is enough) and to both embrace and accept all my flaws. It’s hard! Many days I win against my addiction, but there are still days I cry because I‘ve failed; or maybe I really didn’t, and it’s just my perfectionism’s lie. Whatever the case, I’m no longer running– not from failure, or embarrassment, other’s disapproval, or from letting people see my mistakes. I’m dancing now on the stage of life and letting my weaknesses accentuate my strengths!
Have you dealt with perfectionism? Are you recovering, or at the moment are you fully immersed? Let us know how you’ve dealt with it, or how perfectionism has negatively, or positively affected your life.