“If it can’t be done perfectly, don’t do it at all.”
You know who used to think that?
Do you know who used to say that to me?
Yeah, me again.
I did it for more years than I can count (about 30, actually) because, as you might have guessed, I am a recovering perfectionist.
That mentality, or its slightly less damning fellow Mean Girl thought, “If it can’t be done right, it’s not worth doing,” bounced around my head multiple times a day. Any time I was faced with a new challenge, I’d weight the likelihood of success. And often, if there wasn’t a pretty strong certainty that I’d nail it, I would politely decline. Or run away. Or work myself up into such a lather of anxiety that it magnified the issue far beyond what it was when it started.
It’s not that I didn’t want to try new things, or that I didn’t love learning. Adventures are a blast, and I intend to be a student for the rest of my life. It was the calculation of perfection that held me back. From the time I was a toddler, my mom tells me that I expected I should know how do something – not just correctly, but like a pro – before I could have possibly learned how. I mean, why shouldn’t a 2-year-old be able to pound out a story about unicorns on the typewriter? Why shouldn’t a 4-year-old be able to read Ramona the Pest on her own?
No one pressured me to do it but me, and the frustration I felt when I didn’t immediately succeed eventually dulled my spirit. From an 11-year-old ashamed to join intramural track because I wasn’t as fast as my friends, to a 16-year-old ashamed of her body because it wasn’t as thin as my friends, the need for perfection has taken me to some really isolated places.
My “perfect” recovery has had ups and downs, though in the past few years the pressure escalated. Perhaps it’s just the nature of being in your late 20s – that’s when you’re supposed to be figuring it out. The job, the relationship, the home, the family. And I did those things. But any time I felt I screwed up, I let myself have it. Rather than learn from mistakes, I used them as ammunition. Why I wasn’t good enough, or smart enough, or ambitious enough, or thin enough. Illogical, yes. Effective? Not at all.
It’s taken time, therapy, practice and patience, but I’m getting there. I believe in the concept now, and I remind myself of it constantly. And I think about my reaction when other people make “mistakes.” When I even notice them (because a lot of the time, I don’t) I actually find them incredibly endearing. Rarely does it anger me, and I can guarantee you it doesn’t ruin my whole day – which is what I’ve assumed about others when I’ve made mistakes of my own. It really comes down to vulnerability. It reminds us that we’re not so different. It makes us more able to forgive – others and ourselves. Mistakes are proof that you are trying, yes. They’re also proof that you are human.
I don’t want to miss out on adventures because I’m afraid I won’t be perfect. And if I have children, I don’t want to exemplify that attitude for them. I would never expect it of someone else. There’s no excuse to expect it of me, either. I’ve missed out due to my own inhibitions. Life is too short and, frankly, way too awesome. It was a huge leap of faith to go out on my own, freelancing and becoming a health coach. I had to trust that the challenges and inevitable mistakes would be worth doing the work that’s in my bones. Learning to trust myself has, in fact, been the most powerful side-effect.
Sometimes I’ll double-book. Or miss the direction my client is going for in a writing project. Or totally overlook the fact that prices were missing from a menu I’m editing (that definitely happened last week…oops). Were any of those a result of me hiding out and isolating myself? Nope, it was me actively doing my thing and, for the most part, really enjoying the process.