When someone first called me a perfectionist, I didn't believe it at all. Why? Being far from perfect, I could always find someone better than me, faster than me, smarter than me.I wasn't always that way. I can remember much more carefree days. Until I began to feel that I wasn't good enough. I started to work hard at being what I thought I was supposed to be. This was my way of managing stress. As a child I was really well-behaved. My motivation was I was mortified at the thought of getting in trouble. I was friendly with everyone, but kept my cards close. I let few people in my inner circle. I became a health food fanatic, I over-prepared for classes and work. Working so hard in so many ways was exhausting. And I missed out on a lot. Because I lived for praise and avoided ridicule at all costs, I hated trying anything that I didn't think I could do well right off the bat. Better to not try than to put in effort in and failing. Looking back, I see that my methods for managing stress shrunk my world.
A Little Girl Changes Everything
I put my daughter in the best preschool program I could find. A part of me felt ill as I dropped her off at school, but I was able to ignore it in the interest of "doing what's right." It started to dawn on me that she was following my path. Oh no. She was transforming from a wide-eyed little spark of joy to a little perfectionist. Typical me, I started obsessively reading everything I could find about early childhood. Good thing though, it was a book that startled me out of being the automaton I had become. I had worked so hard to fit in to what I thought I was supposed to do. In doing so, I had gone deaf to my own instincts. This became my new drive. I have to admit, it took lots of courage, but wanting to do right by my little girl propelled me. I started to make decisions that were brave-for-me, even out of "the box" but felt instinctually right. I believe I became a much better parent and a much better friend.
The Take Away
What a paradigm shift. I found it confusing. To strive to stop doing what I had strived for for years. But, there is a big difference between striving to do well because of wanting to do the best you can do and doing so because you are worried about how others might react.I believe we all struggle with this to some extent. As we are growing up, we learn from those around us how we "should" be. These ideals are reinforced constantly by our culture. How women are supposed to be. How men are supposed to be. Not that anyone is ever really like either of these! We just don't realize it and keep trying to measure up to standards that aren't doable or even desirable.I work daily at how I manage stress. My life feels so much richer for it, but I do have to keep reminding myself that I have choices in how I respond. Too much stress can put me right back into my old conditioning.What helps me to just bring my attention to my breath. Somehow, this helps me observe myself rather than get caught up in what's going on. I do this as often as I can or any time I feel myself leaving the room and going into my head. When I'm stressed, I may have to focus like this several times an hour. I'll check in with myself and notice how I am reacting. If it is out of an old fear, I can then choose a brave and lean in toward instead of out away from. Doing so, I feel more alive, more loving, more loved. Who would have thought that taking risks would actually make me feel more secure.