I can’t recall the moment when I felt the need to be perfect, which doesn’t even really mean anything. It’s an idea, a nonsensical goal. And while I can acknowledge that basic premise and the fact that I’m a recovering perfectionist, I never really saw my perfectionism as a major roadblock in my life. Sure, I placed higher expectations on myself and went to great lengths to prove what I was capable of, but in my mind that kind of hustle and drive was taking me places, not killing my magic and spirit or my ability to be authentic and vulnerable.
This past Thursday I was amped to teach a Halloween themed LifeBarre class as Michael Jackson, replete with an MJ playlist. Every detail had been planned to a “T” – in my mind it was going to be the perfect class. But as people staggered in without costumes and the studio was less full than I expected, I found the voice of perfectionism in my head growing louder with “not-enough’s.”
I carried the feeling of not-enough with me as I rushed down the hall to YTT, an hour after my training had already started. When asked how class was, I could barely utter an “OK.” My response and the heaviness of it startled me. It was so vastly different than the “It was sooooo amazing” I expressed the week prior.
Soon after arriving at YTT, we began practicing Sun B’s. I felt myself shrink in my seat. I had just gotten my Sun A’s down and didn’t feel that confident with the Sun B sequence or my cueing. I didn’t want to go, or worse, mess up in front of everyone. Person after person volunteered to lead in front of the group. And those incredibly courageous ones who volunteered weren’t immune from making mistakes; instead they persevered through and finished in exquisitely beautiful ways. Watching that however, didn’t ease my anxiety. Neither did the number of dwindling volunteers. And so when my name was called I took a big exhale, stood up from my seat and drew my hands up in front of my heart at sama- sthiti. I began,
Inhale. Exhale, bend your knees, send your hips and arms back. Inhale sweep your arms beside your ears, chair pose, Utkatasana. Exhale fold over, straight legs. Inhale, half lift, gaze out to the horizon. Exhale plant your hands coming to the bottom of your push-up, Chaturanga. Inhale, upward facing dog. Exhale, send your hips high, right foot steps forward, left foot turns out. Inhale arms up, look up. Exhale, plant your hands, lower down. Inhale heart up, gaze up. Exhale, down dog, left foot steps forward, right foot spirals out. Inhale arms up, look up. Exhale, plant your hands, lower down. Inhale heart up, gaze up. Exhale, down dog, 5 deep breaths here.
As my teacher was breathing in down dog, I started to speak to the Bandhas and breath. In the middle of a sentence he cut me off.
My teacher: “Place your hands on my back.”
Me: “Are you serious?”
My teacher: “Make a connection with your student. Feel them breathing.”
Me: exasperated sigh and eye roll.
I went on to finish my Sun B’s, but this experience stuck with me. In many ways it rocked me to my core. For not feeling like I was ready to lead Sun B, my cueing was damn near on. Greatest opportunity for growth? Connection. Turns out, that perfection thing, the thing I’ve been telling myself was going to take me places, was also the very thing preventing me from being open and authentic and vulnerable.
You might be thinking, OK, so what’s the problem, Amy? You know connection is the “issue” so start to connect more. And I hear you. And I thought the same thing. It seems so simple, right? But that is oversimplifying what perfectionism is about.
Perfectionism works because it’s based on a deep-seated personal belief that we’re not enough – the kind of belief that we’ve programmed into every aspect of how we do what we do. In this way, perfectionism isn’t just a mindset. It’s a lifestyle and a way of being. For those of us suffering from perfectionism, it’s as if we don’t know who we are if we aren’t hustling and striving. Even more, because we inherently believe we aren’t good enough on some level, we attach our worth to our work or the result we get. If our work is rejected or if we believe ourselves to fail, we feel rejected and believe ourselves to be a failure. In an effort to avoid that cost, we risk only in safer arenas and hide anything that would make others think less of us. Problem is, the same action that we think will save us face, also erases the opportunity to really see others and ourselves exactly as we are – it takes away opportunities for connection because connection can only happen when we take down walls and risk being vulnerable.
Perfectionism is like holding the cards close to your chest in a high stakes game and never letting anyone see them. Even when we have a “winning” hand, it doesn’t matter because in our minds we’ve already lost.
For me, starting to overcome perfectionism, requires sharing this experience with you. It involves me telling you:
- I feel ashamed of where I am and feel like I should be further along – that my classes should be fuller, that my book should be published – hell, that all my blogs should already be up on my website.
- I’m afraid that I’ll never be enough or get to where I want to be in any area of my life and that if I’m not striving constantly, I won’t get anywhere.
- I’m terrified of failing. Especially if it means making a mistake in front of you.
- I’m convinced if I truly connect to you, if you see who I am, you won’t really like me and you’ll reject me.
- I’m afraid if I don’t have control, my life will fall apart.
- I’m afraid of you seeing the not-so-confident side of me.
- I’m afraid that sharing all this with you, will make you think less of me.
Part of this journey I’m on right now is about connecting and part of connecting is opening up. Being scared and choosing to open up anyway. Brene Brown says, “Authenticity is a practice and you choose it every day. Sometimes every hour of every day.” And so that’s what I’m choosing today.
This week, show up in all of YOU, however you are, wherever you find yourself. Show up in your mess, with your mess, as your mess. And know that mess is part of the process – the glorious unfolding of magic that is YOU.