I have been contemplating writing this post for about two weeks now, but I haven’t been able to get the thoughts out…figured I’d just go ahead and start rambling and hope that something makes sense.
After my Moody May post, I had several people chide me for being too hard on myself, trying to be perfect (or a perfect mom), and denying myself the privilege of down-time. I was a little bit shocked, and, if I’m honest, very miffed. I felt like, if anything, my post was transparent of my own faults. That I was struggling with the logistics of getting “me-time,” not purposely denying myself breaks. I feel frustrated when people think I’m trying to be some super-mom or perfect wife, when in reality I’m just trying to do MY best…not keep up with other people. I just do what I can to make it through each day in a way that makes me feel both successful and happy.
My blog is only 4 years old. People can see the changes that I’ve made in those 4 years, but they cannot see the vastness in the changes that I’ve made prior to those 4 years. They cannot know the things I’ve gone through and the hardships I’ve endured during my high school and college years. They cannot know that the person I am now, my personality, and the standards I “inflict” upon myself barely resemble what existed in my growing up and college years. If you think I try too hard now…um, wow…you don’t even want to know what I looked like then.
“Perfectionism” in general, is something that I have lived and breathed my entire life. It comes from both nature and nurture. My nature has been one of precision, order and organization, attention to detail, and strong memorization and analysis skills. I get this from my father, who is a mathematician. My mother is also very attentive to detail and has strong organizational skills. They raised me, together, in such a way that I could always rest in their unconditional love, regardless of my performance. But, they also saw my potential and cultivated it and encouraged it the best that they knew how. By nature I did well in school and music.
I had a very defining moment at the end of my third grade year. Even though I had always had straight A’s and won spelling competitions, I still hadn’t realized my own potential. But my teacher got up and started talking about an award: the student with the highest grade point average of the entire year. My mind naturally started guessing who it would be…obviously her or him! They always were the smartest at everything and the fastest at “Around the World.” But when she called my name I was shocked. It was then that I realized… “WOW! I’m SMART!!!”
It was then that my competitive nature kicked in. When most people think of a “competitive” person they think sports. But, as I can’t even kick a ball without tripping, my competitive nature showed itself in academics and music. I hated being beat on anything, from a grade on a history test to a state-wide spelling bee or piano competition. I pushed myself to have the highest grades and do the best I could. My favorite time of year was the preparation and culmination of the “Christian Schools of Ohio” (CSO) competition in academics and music. And I was almost always successful. I maintained honor roll grades and won many awards during my elementary and junior high years.
My competitive nature and desire for perfection really alienated me from my peers. Pre-teens don’t much care for the “teacher’s pet” or the “smarty pants.” And, because I tried to maintain “Godly” behavior and a “modest” appearance, you can throw “goody goody” in there as well. By the time I finished 8th grade, I had no friends. I was smart, but had no sense of style (which when you are in junior high is pretty much all that girls care about.) My house had no TV and we listened to classical or Christian music, so I had no idea about pop culture at all. I loved the academics of school, but hated being around my school mates and would come home from school each day pretty much miserable. I didn’t understand what was so horrible about trying to get good grades and live for God.
At the end of my 9th grade year, my parents decided to homeschool me and my younger brother for various reasons. I was ecstatic. Yes, I would miss out on some of the competition-aspects of traditional schooling (and had to let go of my goal of being class valedictorian), but I could throw myself into academics without having to deal with the drama of highschool.
First day of homeschooling, 2002:
At the same time, we started attending a church that we loved, yet was steeped strongly in legalism. During my high school years, I strove for perfection in my “spiritual life,” spending as much as two hours a day in Bible study, prayer, and Scripture memory. Let me clarify all of this by saying this was NOT something that my parents required. I felt like it was something that God required…in reality it was what I was requiring of myself. Our church had strong stances against “wordly” entertainment and dating relationships; and pushed modesty, submission, and Biblical Patriarchy. Every time I went to church the “bar was raised” a bit higher, and I gladly and wholeheartedly pushed to reach it.
Me at 17, 2004:
I thank God that my love of learning pushed me to continue education beyond high school. While “daughters leaving the home” to attend college was strongly discouraged at our church, I pushed beyond their expectations and went anyway. Simultaneously, my family moved to another state due to my father’s job.
College changed my life. It was there that I realized that it doesn’t matter how much you try to follow the rules, what your heart truly feels, or how hard you work…there will ALWAYS be people who think you don’t belong, think you aren’t good enough or “Godly” enough. I went to three colleges in two years, each place striving to fit in, be “good enough,” and work “hard enough” to succeed… each place finding nothing but disappointment. I had my heart broken in far more ways than one.
Me at colleges 1, 2, and 3, 2005-2007:
I cannot thank God enough for my husband. Choosing to marry him was by far the scariest and riskiest thing I had ever done. He was far from the perfect preacher-boy of a husband that I had envisioned marrying… He didn’t measure up to the list of qualifications that I had made in my high school years to “protect my heart” from marrying the wrong person. But I loved him. And I knew that, no matter how people judged or warned me, he was the only person that I wanted to be with.
I left college because, logistically, I didn’t want to be stuck mid-semester being unable to marry the man I loved before he was about to deploy. It was the best decision I ever made. Since then, I have been on a long journey of self-discovery. I constantly ask myself questions like “Why do I do this? Why do I feel like I HAVE to act this way? Why am I wearing this outfit instead of this one?” The voices of teachers, professors, and pastors began to fade away and I began to listen to my own heart. I began to relax… to stop working so hard. Stop trying to be perfect.
I learned a long time ago that trying to be perfect only results in heartbreak. And I stopped trying…at least I think I have.
Now I just try to live my life to enjoy it, to do my best with what God has given me. To RECEIVE love from God, from my family, and from my friends based on who I am, not what I can do or accomplish. This does not come easily for me. It’s not natural. It’s hard to stop 18 years of psychological games that declare that you have to work harder or be better.
Being a new wife, having a child, and going through two combat deployments during this time of “recovery” from perfectionism has not been easy. Because they are new challenges…and with every new challenge comes the old temptation to “be the best” even though I know the only person requiring that of myself IS myself.
I write this to let my readers know this: I am painfully aware of the fact that I am “too hard on myself,” and it is something that I constantly fight and guard against. I continually look for ways to relax and let my hair down. I cut things out of my life that foster a competitive spirit or make me feel like I have to measure myself against a standard. (Which is why everything I went through with my break with Facebook was so highly intense and personal.) Looking back to the young woman I was in my teenage and college years almost makes my own heart break for myself… I barely recognize her. I want to go to her, shake her, and say “Just stop!!! You’ll never be good enough for them…just do what makes you happy…stop feeling so guilty!! You have a beautiful life ahead of you…you don’t have to try so hard.”
I write this to say… if you only knew how far I’ve come! I’m sorry if I present an image that oozes of “trying to be perfect,” because I gave up on that a long time ago.
I read this post this morning on “Competitive Mothering” that addresses this problem as it relates to motherhood. I loved the ending of her post:
“Is there a solution? Is there a way out? Of course there is. Instead of boasting in your strengths as a mother, or wanting to be able to boast in your strengths as a mother, why not boast in your weakness? Only when you accept your weakness, your insufficiency, will that competition and guilt begin to melt away.”
This is probably going to be a topic that I will be writing more about over the next few months (considering a blog-series). Perfectionism is a weakness–one of my greatest weaknesses. I believe that. But, perfectionism is also one of my greatest strengths. I’m learning how to capitalize on the “strengths” I gain from this part of my nature while fighting the negative things that it brings to my life. I want to accept this weakness, to “boast” in it, if you will… because I know that it is a part of who I am and who God has made me to be. This is why I wrote this post.