Do you suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out)? Do you deflect compliments rather than say thank you (“What, this old thing?”)? Do you drive while simultaneously talk on the phone, eat lunch and change the music?
These experiences can be due to a number of factors. They can also be subtle examples of being a perfectionist.
It takes one to know one. I am in recovery myself. (Disclaimer: I use the term perfectionism here to mean mental rigidity and expectations that are unrealistic and all-consuming rather than a balanced sense of healthy striving and goal-setting.) A small example of my recovery — as I type this, pain shoots down my back and neck. This is less about working long hours at my computer or sitting in my therapy chair. It’s pain from waterskiing last weekend. I simply had to get up on one ski. Never mind I was in no condition for it. Apparently I needed to prove to myself I could still slalom ski and cut waves like I did at 15. I now pay the price!
I’m often humbled by the ways I still get seduced by what Buddhists call the “wanting mind” which whispers you’re not enough. I observe the ways I pushed myself waterskiing and now chuckle at the silliness in loosely associating slalom skiing with self-worth. It’s a remnant of the girl I was starting in about 5th grade. By day I was a teacher’s pet with pens, notebooks and binders that all matched. By night an insomniac mentally recycling the next day’s plan in order to get it right.
Somewhere along the way I started letting go of the type A people pleaser. Somewhere along the way I learned that what truly connects us are the imperfections we all share.
Sadly we’re bombarded by messages that disconnect us, even within the world of yoga. The most popular yoga magazine displays cover models from a narrow demographic. The hyper-focus on the perfect body in the perfect clothing while ‘doing’ the perfect yoga pose fuels new versions of inadequacy, control and separateness from one another. This is antithetical to yoga’s original intentions over 5000 years ago.
Connection to our own self begins by having the courage to step on the yoga mat simply as I am… hot mess. speedy mind. pissed off. blissed out. wanting to hide. comparing to others. rising high. falling over. crackling joints. epiphany. sensations. exhalation. out of my head. back in my head… I arrive and I practice how to ride the wave of emotions within me rather than distracting from them, denigrating myself, or projecting onto another. (Practice is a powerful concept, perhaps the second most important factor in behavior change second to self-compassion). Most days I arrive at my mat and actually let go of unhealthy striving and simply settle in. One day farther from being the 5th grade little-miss- goody-two-shoes and another day closer to the real, raw, middle-aged woman. Another day closer to allowing the flaws and the scars but also the compassion and the wisdom.
May we all adopt the definition of “perfect” in the eastern sense of the word rather than the western sense. In the U.S. perfectionism is unachievable because it’s a neverending cycle. There’s always more money to make, more work to do, more power to have, more improvements to the mind and body, and more adventures to behold. In the eastern sense of the word we are born perfect but the ups and downs of life can interfere with remembering our inner light. Our perfect self gets buried under the rights and wrongs, the not-good-enough’s and the he-said-she-said story lines of life. We lose our true essence, our innate goodness and become stuck in the gap between who we are and who we think we should be.
Popular researcher Brené Brown speaks of a prevalent modern form of shame in which we never feel we’re extraordinary enough. We have gone from simply never being enough to never being extraordinary enough. How American of us to push it to the next level! The rise in anxiety and insomnia in our culture clearly exemplifies how harmful this concept can be.
I love this passage on letting-go by Oakland poet Marvin K. White, which is essentially an ode to allowing ourselves to be un-extraordinary once in a while:
… is so not into working harder than everybody else today or trying to be smarter than everybody else, showing up earlier than everybody else, leaving later than everybody else, taking the assignments that no one else wants to take. Is not into over achieving or grinding today. Is not fighting for that promotion today. Is not going to feel bad about taking his eye off the prize and disappointing everyone who had a higher hope for his life. . . Is not going to regret jumping from dream to dream and praying not for world peace or cures but money and clothes and homes on every continent and then not really believing in their possibilities. Is so alright with the local news of his life and the neighborhood newsletter of his story. Would be okay if he was one of Oprah’s least favorite things. . . Is so not into fighting to get in through the front door when the back one and the windows all lead to the same room. Is not into feeling stronger from what didn’t kill him. Does not want gain to come from his pain…Today, he is feeling common and pedestrian and willy-nilly. Today he cannot commit to excellence or to honoring his fray by trying to rise above it. Today he is rank an filed. Today, he has will to not try to convince himself that he is better than that. Today, what ever happens will happen because his is a life unremarkable. Today if you ask him how he is doing, he will tell you, that he, is “Aiming low.”
For more insights on letting go of rigidity and unhealthy perfectionism, attend one of my upcoming workshops this fall called Yoga for Overachiever’s and Perfections.