the curse of perfectionism.

When I was nine years old I very vividly remember my mother sitting me down in the TV room of our house to break some harsh news to me.

“Lindsay,” she said. “You have to drop something. Right now, you’re in a play, you’re taking piano lessons, you’re doing ballet, and you’re playing soccer. You can do three of these. But not four.”

(By the way, this was the same year that I scored the highest marks in the county on a state-wide writing exam. I am currently dusting my shoulders off, thankyouverymuch.)

I really didn’t understand my mom’s reasoning. I mean, why couldn’t I do it all? Or more if I wanted? So what if that at nine years old I didn’t have a bedtime that made sense. I had stuff to do! There were scales to be rehearsed and plies to be practiced and goals to be kicked and pounds to be lost (I was a nine-year-old ballerina, damnit. No fat ballerinas allowed, my teacher told me!) I had a world to conquer! I had no time to be like the other kids and come home from school to simply play in the dirt, come inside to eat their weight in Spaghettios, and subsequently fall victim to a milk-induced coma at a reasonable time in the evening. I felt stifled. What was the issue, Mom? Seriously?

There wasn’t one issue. There were several. The most urgent roadblock was the fact that my poor, single mom couldn’t possibly afford to let me do every stinkin’ extracurricular activity under the sun. No matter how good I was at anything, I was only as good as my mom’s wallet was big. But the most pressing issue is one that I never really grasped until recently. The problem was that at an extremely young age I was already knee-deep in a pattern of spreading myself too thin in an honest attempt to be the best at everything. I wanted so badly to be perfect, even before I really knew what perfect is. (Read: impossible.)

Last night, I was nine years old all over again.

I came home from my run to find my husband on our couch, writing curriculum for this Sunday. I fell to the floor in a heap of sweaty defeat, upset that I went running outside as opposed to my normal indoor-track-or-treadmill-at-the-gym routine. He asked me why I hated running outside so much, and then the truth came out.

“Because every time I go running outside, I feel like everyone is watching me, and then a random cross country team inevitably shows up and makes me look like a complete failure. And that happened today. Why can’t they let me run my measly three miles in peace? Can they NOT lap me like five hundred times?”

Dan looked confused, but also full of pity for me. “Lindsay, they are competitive runners. You are not.”

I looked at him like I was going to shoot razors from my pupils and slice his face off. YES I AM, I thought. I’M THE BEST. AT LEAST, I HAVE TO BE. I MUST BE THE BEST RUNNER EVER EVER EVER EVER.

“You can be a competitive runner if you want,” he continued. “But if you do, you won’t have time to play piano. Or lead junior high. Or write. You can’t do it all, Lindsay. You can’t be the best at everything.”

Ugh. Barf. You’d think that at almost 25 I would have gotten over this by now. But, as you can see, I have not. And once again I find myself up to my face in the reality that I am not perfect, nor will I ever be. And it’s about high time I stopped trying.

Anyone else feel me on this?

9 thoughts on “the curse of perfectionism.

  1. I know how that is. I am possibly the worst at spelling there is. With every spelling mistake (Even ones that are correct but not the word I wanted) that I accidentally let through with writing anything, even if I can just revoke the article and fix it and push it through again, I beat myself up over it.

    Remember though, we are made in God’s image, not as God. No one is perfect, and the only thing holding us back is our mind. Everyone in some way shape or form has a perfection problem, if you don’t you haven’t done enough with your life.

  2. Not only do I feel you, I AM you. Don’t be too hard on yourself. God has given you many gifts, and he has also called you to be responsible with them. That is impossible to do when you are trying to manage everybody else’s gifts as well. Sometimes it’s better to be very good in one area and just okay in others instead of being average at everything. Spend time in prayer asking God what skills He needs you to have when he calls you to help further His Kingdom. One of my favorite quotes: “An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field.” -Niels Bohr

    This is what I have been telling myself for years…haha. Easier said than done, but you’re not alone 🙂

    • A) Thank you for all your encouragement!
      B) I kind of love you more than life.
      C) IS THAT A WORDPRESS BLOG I SEE?!??!?! GOOGLE READER FOR THE WIN! I shall now stalk you via blog. Post away so that I can have something to do at work!
      D) Still love you lots.

  3. Oh chica, you have no idea how much I needed to read this. I had a wonderful little meltdown of frustration last night after having sat and listened to recordings of myself for too long. I just hated how I sounded and was mad that my level of performance wasn’t what I wanted it to be (particularly with my guitar playing). But I don’t practice guitar as much as I could because I’m doing so much other stuff. There’s nothing wrong with pursuing excellence, but you’re right, we’re banging our heads against a brick wall when we try to be perfect at everything. *sigh* good reminder. Tough reminder, but a good one. 🙂 Love love love you!

    • Girlfriend, LOVE YOU. And your talent is unmatched 🙂 You are excellent, I promise! We are our own worst critics… we should take a few pointers and just learn to give ourselves some credit every once in a while! Jeez! 🙂

  4. Pingback: legitimate questions for runners. « adventures in domestication.

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