Letting Go Of The Need To Be Perfect
For a big part of my life, I hung out on the sidelines, waiting and hoping for that one moment where I would be good enough to actually participate in my own life. I was so full of shame that I couldn’t bear the thought of people looking at me and judging me, even when it came to the most mundane of tasks. It was drummed into me from the moment I could speak that I was imperfect – that there was something wrong with me – that I wasn’t good enough. Other people were good enough. Other people could enjoy their lives, but not me. I had to get to some place, or to some arbitrary marker, where once there, I’d be normal, then I could live – but not until then. In the meantime I could dream, I could hope and I could long.
My mother placed a premium on beauty. In her eyes I was not. I know I embarrassed her and she let me know every chance she got. She would tell me at the age of 5 that I had my father’s genes, (my father was a large man). As a young child I internalized that to mean that there was something broken in me. I understood that I couldn’t enjoy being normal like other kids could. That I wasn’t like them and couldn’t enjoy the freedom of being just like everyone else. I was different in a bad way and if I wasn’t self-conscious enough I had school mates that would always be there to remind me.
I grew up to be hyper-critical of myself and of other people. This obsession with needing to be perfect had me feeling not right in my own skin. It kept me feeling uncomfortable and unable to focus or be present in my life. I was always distracted, always wishing I could be something unobtainable and always believing that I never measured up
All of these feelings kept me from living my life. My imperfections were, in my dysfunctional thinking, permanent or at least for the most part unchangeable. I had understood that I had to live with these disadvantages. What this did was it robbed me of my courage to even try. It had me play out the self-fulfilling prophecy that I wasn’t good enough and that I didn’t deserve things. It kept me stuck in this never-ending loop of wishing, then trying in a half-heartedly, while knowing that it would never work out because I wasn’t perfect, to it not working out and back to hoping again.
Probably the defining moment came when I achieved those things I believed were unchangeable. I realized that the biggest obstacle for all of us is believing something is possible, when we had previously believed it wasn’t. When we believe something is impossible it changes the amount of effort we put in and it again becomes that self-fulfilling prophecy. When we know something’s possible it changes everything. So I realized if my mother was wrong about that then what else was she wrong about?
Changing Your Perception
I started to become mindful of the beliefs and attitudes that I had been brought up with. It didn’t matter if a person wasn’t beautiful or if they were overweight – they still had value and were worthy of love, care and respect. I would get very angry at the way my mother would dismiss people because of their physicality it really made me ill.
I became aware of when my fear of being judged was stopping me from trying and I pushed forward. I got very comfortable feeling uncomfortable, but in a different way than I had in the past. Now I would face my fear and I was able to find joy in the doing and being a part of life and part of activities I enjoyed. Facing your fears is scary – not living your life because of them is even more terrifying. When I stopped caring what other people thought of me I became less critical of them and a hell of a lot more compassionate towards them and myself.
I stopped letting what other people thought of me affect me. Sure we all want to be liked but when I cared more about what I thought of me and less of what other people thought of me my life really changed. I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to hand over the reins to my self-esteem to a stranger, who didn’t know me, to determine my worth or what I could accomplish.
This acceptance of myself didn’t mean that I just gave up and didn’t try to change the things about me that I could change. I think we should all always be striving to be better, but in the meantime we should be out there living our lives laughing, and enjoying the moment, because this moment is all that we will ever have.
When you sit there waiting for conditions to be perfect you miss out on the right now. If you believe that others are good enough, but you’re not, you live life on the periphery, waiting and hoping that someday you will have your chance, then you will be waiting forever and watching your life pass you by.
The question is, how do you judge when you’re good enough? Is this an arbitrary place in time and space where once you’ve reached it an alarm will go off and then you can enjoy your life? Or is it one of those travelling set points that keeps moving every time you get close, so that it will never be achievable?
The definition of happiness and of having a good time has changed for me – it used to mean Saturday nights dancing at the Boom-Boom room, trying to pick-up guys with my girlfriends. Now it means being connected. It’s deep meaningful relationships with people I care about. It’s lively debates at dinner parties. It’s playing baseball with friends. It’s enjoying a BBQ at my brothers with the kids running around. It’s spending alone time at the cottage, it’s being in nature. It’s making a difference in the lives of others and it’s taking care of myself.
I don’t feel that I have to be perfect to enjoy my life anymore and at the same time I’m not afraid of doing things that challenge me to step away from my comfort zone. The only opinion that matters is my own and that opinion has become a hell of a lot less critical.
In the game of life there are players and there are passengers. Don’t spend your life waiting for some moment, some objective, or some person, to tell you that you’re good enough. Opportunity waits for no man. You can’t ask it to come back in 6 months when you’re ready. Life is a participation sport. Stop waiting and get in the game.
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