The word perfect has to be the most overused adjective in my vocabulary. Does my hair look perfect? Is this outfit perfect? Are the pillows straightened on the couch perfectly? How did I look in that picture? Perfect?
When I think back on majority of my life, I was always striving for perfection. In school, I was not content with an A but was attempting for that perfect, 100%. I unknowingly had a huge fear of failure and was only putting myself in situations where I knew perfection could be achieved. This preoccupation with perfection consumed my identity and I did not realize the effect it had on me until recently. Now, I am not saying that I was absolutely perfect because I definitely had my struggles. Sure, I did not do so well on an exam from time to time but those little hiccups were easily overcome and I was back on track rather quickly.
My first year out of college, I had moved to a city where everyone I knew felt like a stranger to me. I was truly on my own financially and was not balancing the income and expenses very well (thanks Dad for giving me expensive taste.) And probably the most comical part, I was Ms. Leach to about 120 students who had no idea that I taught myself the Algebra lesson we were learning the night before. I was overwhelmed and terrified because in my first shot at the real world (what I had been working towards for the past 19 years of my life), I was “failing” myself. My student’s weren’t mastering their daily objectives and their test scores were low. My credit card had more on it than I ever cared to admit. The only “friend” I really talked to was Ashley at the Chanel make up counter who had to talk to me since I was purchasing make up and adding to that already overused credit card.
My second year of teaching definitely improved but I never really felt like I had achieved all that I had wanted to when I came into the classroom. I started to make a few real friends in Charlotte and things were slowly improving. I was still in search of that perfect young adult life. In June of last year, I started a new job as an Executive Recruiter and while I had my typical new job anxieties, I was thrilled to be back in control and ready to achieve perfection once again. At least this is what I had told myself.
A few months into the job, I had my first candidate say no to a job offer and I sobbed hysterically. (Looking back, convincing someone whose last salary was $120,000 to take an $85,000 offer with an hour long commute each way would have been a miracle.) I was convinced that this was the end and my boss was sure to let me go. Instead, while I sat in his office and cried he told me a story I have heard him tell countless times since. It is about this picture that has a chalkboard with two sides. One side is labeled “Successes” which had a few tallies and the other side was labeled “Learning Experiences” which had many more tallies. He told me that as long as I learned something from the experience, it wasn’t really a failure.
Obviously, I had heard this type of rationale before but it wasn’t until he told me this story that I really looked at my failures as learning experiences. For so long, I played it safe. I was too afraid to fail and therefore missed out on a lot of learning experiences. Looking back, those times when I have struggled are the times when I have really learned the most about myself. Those setbacks are the events that have shaped me into the person I am today.
The moral from this over-worded post, I recently decided to give up on my constant strive for perfection (or at least I am trying to) and I love it. Not saying that I am OK with failing and that a life of mediocrity will content me, but that need to strive for perfection in everything I do, has been lifted (a little.)
I’m not one to go back into the past, but if I had any advice to share with my younger self, it would be to embrace those learning experiences and give up on being perfect! When I tell this to my former students now, they laugh at me and say they will just start failing all of their tests! (Not what I mean if you are reading!)
This blog is one of the tiny steps in me letting go of perfection. I am sure there will be mistakes all along the way. I have no idea how this will turn out. Maybe, I will fail. But as long as I learn something in the process, it will all be worthwhile.
How do you feel about being perfect? Did you learn the importance of learning experiences long before me? I would love to discuss!
Thanks for reading.
Danielle & Henry