It was not that long ago that my main goal in life was to be invisible. If no one saw me than the chances of getting judged, hurt, embarrassed or any other negative social encounter were minimized. This however,much to my disappointment, never worked. I am basically a friendly person and though I try to be quiet and nondescript it does I am not invisible. Being invisible meant that there were no expectations on me. I could do nothing and thereby not make any mistakes.
Making mistakes gets you noticed and it wasn’t perfect. I have no idea when the need to be perfect popped into my life, I just know that it did. There were many opportunities that I have passed up because I was afraid that I would not be able to do the task well or I was afraid that I would have no idea what to do. Going to school is hard. I tend to want to know what I am going to learn before I get there. That way I can coast through and, you guessed it, not make a mistake.
One day I decided that enough was enough. It was okay to not know the answer. I hated being called on in class, even if I knew the answer I froze up and could not remember it. The world was not going to end if I turned in a non stellar or non perfect paper. And it was also not earth shattering if I didn’t know the answer. This was one of the hardest things to do. It also caused me to shut down and hide the first time I turned in a paper that I knew was not going to be that good. I dreaded seeing the advisor that got that paper when I went to the next residency for school. I lived in fear of her shunning me or thinking how unintelligent I was or any number of other things.
And then the big moment. I went to the next residency totally dreading seeing her. Feeling beyond any doubt as though I were the least intelligent person on the campus. And walking up from my car who was the first person that I saw? The Advisor. She greeted me with a hug asked how I was and was genuinely glad to see me. There was no animosity or reason to fear. She had returned my paper and told me what I needed to fix. And that had been the end. I was not perfect and the sky did not fall.
I have since then used that as an object lesson for myself. I do the best I can and the world does not end. It goes on. I do not fall apart. I grow. So even though it is still very very very difficult for me to try to do something that I do not know from the outset that I will succeed, I am trying new things anyway.
2 thoughts on “I am a recovering perfectionist.”
So interesting, Leslie and intimate too. When I worked for Howard Center for Human Services I had two bosses whom I respected a lot. Over the 7 years I was there one or another of the two would make a big deal about something, an administrative change in the organization or a prediction or this or that and then it wouldn’t happen, something would intervene. They wouldn’t apologize or anything, they’d just move on to the next thing. It was a big lesson for me – the closest I had come to men-in-power (in a modest, humanist sort of way) and how they functioned. Definitely helped me give myself some permission to make public, professional mistakes. I know this isn’t precisely what you’re talking about in your entry, but it seemed related.
It is related. It really all comes down to allowing ourselves to make mistakes but also to accept the mistake. I know that owning my mistakes along with my accomplishments was a big step. Thanks