Whenever I have to be particularly introspective when it comes to this whole recovering perfectionist thing…or I should call it the perfectionist thing, since I’ve done some back sliding (obviously), I come back to this quote. I know that the words “good enough” do not even compute for me. It’s hard for me to know when I am letting something go–a project, a writing piece, anything–for good and healthy reasons or due to fear: if I can’t do this perfectly, maybe I shouldn’t deal with it at all.
So, this, if you take J.K. Rowling’s wisdom from a commencement speech she gave to Harvard students (I love that she chose to speak purposefully about failure to a group of people who are high-achievers…the lady has wisdom).The way she delivers this truth makes me understand the great tragedy that can take place when fear and perfectionism and vulnerability create this cocktail, the great tragedy of living cautiously in this world, with the lives God asks us to be good stewards of for Him.
This way of living? It’s not His desire for us. And it doesn’t work. As good ole Jo clearly states (love her).
If you read yesterday’s post, this is Part II. Thanks for bearing with me in dividing it. It was just a lot to share.
You know how I said I wished the story ended with the real Nina standing up and that it didn’t? It ended so much better. That’s not me being cheerful or positive. It is fact.
This may surprise you but I am so glad this weekend happened–for a multitude of reasons but in terms of what I shared yesterday, God used it to show me that some things I struggle with, high achieving and perfectionist tendencies, had been rearing their heads for a few weeks to varying degrees. The fact that I could not recognize myself this past weekend was the effect of all that.
I’ve always known those tendencies of mine are not good for me. When my illness began, God worked a number on me because a huge factor in the amount of pain I feel on the daily depends on stress and how I handle it. Life has stress so handling it is important. What isn’t great is to create stressful situations (as a high achiever and perfectionist) when they don’t need to exist. For many years, God used my illness this way for my good (because I truly believe He had me bending before I broke in this area…even without the health problem). This may sound nuts to some people but I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t had the seizure that led to my chronic illness. God is sovereign.
This lasted for years but too bad my attention span is only so long and it is easy to fall back into old habits. This time God chose to use another wake up call and it happened this weekend. Look, I am going to be straight with you: 99.9% of the people there either didn’t know me at all or had not met me in the flesh. Of course, I wanted them to get to know the real me. Here was our chance to meet and really get to know each other.
Um, not God’s plan for me. But since His plan is always better than mine, I am filled with hope and joy at this moment.
But this weekend, inside, I felt so drastically different in how I was acting (whether it appeared drastic to those few who did know me or not) that I was more concerned over why this personality shift was happening over what people may have thought of me. It was not nerves. It wasn’t me trying to impress anyone (this version of me was far from impressive). It was something internal going on. The lack of sleep for the week leading up to it sure didn’t help. But mostly it was the stress I’d been just been putting on myself for reasons unrelated to the conference.
This concerned me. But God (my favorite two words when strung together) graciously revealed both practical steps to take and spiritual ones. God made it very clear what I needed to do through His strength (maybe I’ll share that here, maybe I won’t…I do know I am not in the position to decide that at this moment). I’m not fretting over my reputation or the impression I made. God just used the way I was acting to reveal some deeper spiritual, emotional, and physical issues I had been ignoring like a child covering her ears.
I love grace. I don’t know what I would do without it. For someone who is incredibly hard on herself (work harder, work better, that is not good enough), grace is just…it’s so foreign and amazing at the same time. It’s radical and I need it. It’s the place where I need to act and live out of every single day. I haven’t been.
For those who emailed and commented, thank you and also, don’t worry. I’m going back to therapy because it is a great place! I love therapy, especially in non-crisis moments (I don’t consider this a crisis considering other things I have been through). That’s when you get to go deep, search out patterns, be held accountable to all the tools you are learning. To be clear, when in a crisis, therapy is just as good only in a different way…kind of in the way of: please help me hold my stuff together until we meet again type of way, which is also important. But yes, wherever we are, sometimes we need help.
I am not doing any of this on my own power. I can’t (proof: this past weekend and the weeks leading up to it).
I need to get on a soapbox for a hot second because there is a problem when Christians who need help are not encouraged to seek out therapy if they need it. I listened to someone who had been told that and my heart broke. Any Christian who knocks Godly counseling or therapy can answer to me (and that’s before they answer to God) for being ignorant. I think that is one of the first times I’ve used that word on the blog because it’s an intense one. But I am saying it. Don’t tell me or anyone else to pray “harder.” I am praying and you need to get your facts straight about what prayer is and what prayer means and oh yeah, the Spirit is praying on my behalf 24/7 so maybe you should talk to Him about praying harder (see Romans 8 and many other places).
Or this whole believing God more thing. If you believed God more, you wouldn’t struggle with x,y,z. You know what I believe, bozo, or rather, what I know? The body of believers is important. We are asked to carry one another’s burdens. We are also different, gifted in different ways. And asking for help is important. So if anyone wants to ask for help from someone who has been trained in biblical counseling, they are believing God. They are taking a step of faith. You are hurting other Christians when you repeat the type of teaching that says therapy is bad or that if you need it, something is wrong with your walk with God. This teaching is unbiblical. That is is another word I don’t use here very often but I used it. And I believe it 100%.
Therapy can be manna from heaven, okay? God given and nutritious.
I will now step off the soapbox (I’ve never been insecure about therapy but I’ve seen and heard these attitudes before and recently when I was hearing someone’s brokenness over something and that they had been told this or taught this…Maybe I saw red? Or many colors? Can you blame me?)
But back to the point of this post after this detour. I am thankful for the wakeup call because now God and I can work it out (also, yes, therapy). It won’t happen with a snap of the fingers (a flesh pattern I’ve struggled with since I was about one years old just doesn’t disappear) it takes work, done through God’s strength, and that work takes time. But because of this weekend I can reroute. I don’t have to keep driving in the same direction.
That’s good, guys.
Also, I have been told that if I even try to paint the straight lines again…expletive, expletive, expletive.
Thanks for your support as always. Your comments and your emails were such a blessing. My hope now, today, with two decent nights sleep under my belt, more prayer than I’ve done in a long while, and a plan in place, is that by lifting my petticoats so to speak…by showing you just how imperfect I am…you may be encouraged. Or maybe there is an area in your life that needs to be rerouted. I don’t know. I am just trusting God in sharing this.
God is so good, guys.
Finally, beauty from the ashes is in God’s job description. It has always been so since the time Adam and Eve sinned, lighting a match to the perfect relationship they experienced with Him in Eden. If after that fire and ash heap, He still could give us beautiful redemption through His Son, then I don’t know why we even pretend that there is a situation beyond Him. If you feel like you are beyond God’s grace or goodness, please hear me when I say you are not. Beauty from ashes is his thing. Let Him do His thing.
I need to learn how to fail and how to have confidence in that failure.
People make mistakes. I understand that. What I can’t seem to get through my thick skull is that I am allowed to make mistakes too. I treat my failures or mistakes like the movie Independence Day and the aliens are coming. Where is Will Smith?
But in all seriousness, when a friend makes a mistake I try to help or make them feel better. Instead, when it comes to myself, I have bad dreams over what I could potentially do wrong personally and in business. When I do make a blunder, one of the worst feelings come over–this sick to my stomach shame. I’ve no tolerance for my potential mistakes or the ones I actually make. Grace is hard to find when I consider myself.
It comes in waves for me. For months, I seem to be giving up my perfectionism to God (I call myself a recovering perfectionist) and then it rears its ugly head again. I am trying to figure out the connection between those times when I am able to give it all to God and those times I hold myself to an extremely high standard.
Maybe it is because I’ve had the rug pulled out from under me in a big way several times in my life? Recently, I was talking to my dear old mum about those times. I just said, “I feel like people have a certain emotional capacity, like a gas tank, and so much went down in such a short amount of time, at a time in my life when I was most vulnerable that it just created this perfect storm and…like, I kind of hope God recognizes how full it is.” I know that’s not how it works; it’s just how it feels sometimes.
Let’s talk about love languages (I am very much rolling my eyes at myself right now). Last time I took it mine was quality time. But affirmation in new relationships, specifically rocky relationships, or when I am trying or beginning something new, I need a pat on the back–which makes me feel so dumb. Want to hear something that makes me feel even more ridiculous? On one level, I just want to make sure I am doing things to someone’s satisfaction and if I am not, I want to know how I can do it to their satisfaction (I’ve been told by professors and managers that I am very good at taking constructive criticism and it is true that I love it because I always want to be better, better, better) but then when it isn’t about the things I do or make or work related, I just want to know that I am liked (so that’s the most ridiculous part).
All of this adds more stress to my body and my chronic illness is triggered by stress. So I’ll be getting to the bottom of why my perfectionist tendencies have been higher than normal this summer.
Are you a perfectionist–recovering or otherwise? What helps you?
I don’t know how to run marathons. I’m speaking metaphorically here (although literally, that sentence would be true, too). I know how to sprint. I know how to dig my hooves into the dirt, heart pumping in my chest, from the moment the race begins, to the moment I cross the finish line. Yes, I am a comparing myself to a (race) horse. Give me a goal. Point me towards it. No need for blinders in my case. There are stories of horses giving themselves heart attacks just to cross that finish line. I’ve come close to doing the same. And I can’t just finish. I must finish perfectly.
Then something happened to me. It started with a random and one time seizure in Rome and ended with a diagnosis for a condition in which stress and pain are deeply connected. Um, stress? Who me? Yes, maybe it is true that for years my mom warmed my feet in her lap and said things like, “Nina, you just put so much pressure on yourself. You don’t need to.” And yes, it is also true that no one ever told me that A’s were the only acceptable grade. When the diagnosis came, in the middle of my junior year of college, my dad begged me, “C’s, Nina! C’s!”
Give me a goal, even the hint of a goal, and I will crush it. I’m a racehorse or better yet, my physical body is the racehorse and my brain is the cruel and relentless jockey, willing to push the animal beneath him (jockeys are notoriously male) to a relentless and impossible to maintain pace (if you want to get real with this metaphor).
A sprint is just fine for fifty yards. But pacing oneself for longer lengths of time, for a lifetime, let’s say, is a whole different matter–one I am learning more and more about, from that day in Rome through today. I don’t have it down, by any means (obviously). And just when I learn how to pace myself in one area of life, I find myself challenged in another. I choose to believe this is for my good.
Since I am in sales, the year is divided into quarters and each quarter is both a marathon and a sprint. These quarters have proven to be difficult for me to understand in relation to stress, because sales is inherently stressful. Anyone who tells you differently must have ice water in his or her veins. (Also, please give me this person’s phone number. I know a lot of people who would like to talk to him or her.)
So, you can understand my friends and family’s concern when I flew across the country for a sales job. Sometimes I call them out of breath, out of words, tired to the bone, or manically crazed from talking to people all day. “I have to hit my number,” I tell them, like I am an addict. And I am an addict because isn’t that what perfectionism is when you really consider it? An addiction?
People who love me urge me to take a step back. And I do; I step back and try to take in “the bigger picture” but then my heart is racing, those blinders are on, and I am running a race, galloping so hard my heart could burst from my chest. I have to win. This, too, is an addiction. The worst part is, I am not competing against others. It has never been about that for me. I am competing against myself so even when I win…I lose, too.
Some people can do that to themselves. For a long time, for most of my life, I was one of them. I am no longer able to, not since my junior year, not without consequences to my health that are worse than losing. Gosh, I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence. I winced as I typed the period but it’s the truth. There are things worse than losing.
This quarter, I dug my heels in and I fought and I pushed and I won. I made my goal on October 31st. I celebrated by going to a diner with my friend from work, Lis, where she ordered potato skins and I ordered a club sandwich. (Please, I know you are inordinately jealous of the glamourous lives we lead.) We were too exhausted to celebrate anymore than that. The next day, November 1st, another quarter began. We started from zero, without time for the natural adrenaline to leave our bodies. (Talk about a tangible lesson when it comes to what is eternal and what isn’t.) It’s insanity but it is my job. And I know, believe me I know, when I am handling stress well and when I am not.
Right now, I would give myself about a four on a scale of ten, slightly below average.
(Even now, I cannot help giving myself a grade. I mean, seriously?????)
I think I just gave myself a stomachache.
But here is what I have learned: usually stomachaches are little red flags that I need to figure out how to cope and deal with my stress and perfectionism in a healthier way. The nature of sales is not going to change. So I must change, and adapt, and learn to grow. I must learn to run these marathons in such a way that I can pick myself up on the 31st and start from zero the next day, knowing the difference between my best, and my heart bursting from my chest mid-gallop.
Listen, perfectionism is an unattainable standard and I refuse to spend my life chasing it. Trade in the word sales for grades or job or anything else I have chased in my life and this post would be applicable two years ago, six years ago, and on and on. The more I realize this, the more inclined I am to let go. Of course, as soon as I let go in one area, I am suddenly aware I am clutching onto something else. Just like any other addiction, it’s one day at a time.
To be continued,
P.S. I have been saving this post until the blog makeover is complete (we are still in progress but I can’t wait to share with you the two lovely ladies behind it all) but then I realized that it was kind of ironic that I was waiting for the blog to be perfect to write about perfection…Yeah.