In part I of my confessions of a former perfectionist, I left you where I was around middle school.
By that point, I had done everything so perfectly my whole life, from school to extracurriculars, that perfection was expected. Anything less than an A+ at school was met with, “that’s the best you can do?” And not being the best at a sport, not making first chair in band, not being on the best, most advanced cheer squad, meant I was the worst. That I had failed.
So I had to keep being perfect, or else I would let everyone down.
I felt that I had to uphold my standards of excellence on all fronts. I had to get straight A+s. I had to be on the best cheer squad. I had to be pretty. I had to be polite. I had to be likeable. Or else I just wouldn’t be accepted. I wouldn’t be loved.
That’s when I started having major anxiety.
School was something that came naturally to me, so I never had to study very hard. But I did study enough to make good grades. I was expected to be in all AP classes, to take dual-credit high school courses that would earn college credit hours, too. So I did. And I got all A’s.
By the time I graduated high school, my grade average was well over 100. But it wasn’t the best. I was ranked number 5 in my class of 500. But that wasn’t first, and that’s all that mattered.
What I really struggled with mentally was cheerleading. Even though I was athletic, I wasn’t naturally gifted in tumbling. (Is anyone naturally gifted in hurling your body through the air and twisting it into unnatural shapes? Probably not.) But I was expected to be good at it to keep my spot on the team, so I went to classes multiple times a week to try to improve my skills. I was always extremely nervous that I would get yelled at during practice for not landing a tumbling pass or not having a certain skill that I was expected to have, that I would get called out in front of all of my peers. I would literally pray before practices that our coaches wouldn’t make us do long tumbling passes.
I started having anxiety attacks, freezing up mentally, my neck and shoulders aching not from the physical workouts but from tensing up with nerves.
It was so mentally unhealthy, but I never once thought about it that way at this time. I never thought about quitting or about moving down a level onto the less-advanced squad or changing gyms to one where the coaches weren’t so hard on the kids, where the girls seemed to actually have fun. Nope. I was going to be on the best squad, on the winning team. All while studying my ass off, having a social life, and looking good. And if that meant crippling anxiety, fine.
So there I was, using perfectionism as a shield. If I was just perfect at everything, I would never feel rejected. If I was perfect, I would be worthy of love. I was so terrified of rejection that I pushed myself far beyond my limits both mentally and physically. Not being good enough was my absolute worst fear.
Despite trying to be perfect in all ways, I still felt like I wasn’t good enough. I still felt rejection.
But here’s the thing. I was good enough, and I am good enough. I didn’t know it at the time, because nobody ever told me. It would take years and years of therapy, some very low points, a lot of growing up, and finding a person who truly loves me unconditionally before I finally (about 10 years later) realized that I am good enough, that I am worthy of love and acceptance without being perfect.
Because perfection doesn’t exist. Perfectionism is nothing more than a way of protecting yourself from feeling rejected. It’s a way of hiding our vulnerabilities.
Once I realized that perfection wasn’t real and that I was going to disappoint people no matter what I did, I was finally able to start living my life for me. I made decisions based on what I wanted, not what I thought other people wanted. I no longer lived out of the fear of disappointing people.
There is something so powerful and freeing about being able to be unapologetically you. About allowing yourself to have flaws and still knowing you are worthy of love and respect. About knowing that not everyone is going to agree with you, and being 100% okay with that. And knowing that you will make mistakes, and that you’ll be forgiven and that those who care about you will still love you when you do make mistakes.
So I’m proud to be a recovered perfectionist. Sometimes I try hard at something, and it turns out great. Sometimes I try hard and I completely miss the mark. And now more than ever, I just have to grant myself a little grace and know that I tried. That sometimes just done is better than perfect. And that good enough is truly good enough.