The dreaded trait of perfectionism makes an appearance in my life once again...
In case it wasn't abundantly clear, I struggle with perfectionism. A lot. Though, I’ve been in denial because I don’t experience perfectionism with every single thing I do. I’d like to think of it as, selective perfectionism. It usually boils to surface and becomes a problem only when it relates to things I care deeply about with my heart and soul. Associating myself with perfectionism used to be rare but now that I’m more self-aware than I’ve ever been I’m realizing how uncomfortable it is to deal with it and I’m still working through ways to cope.
The most recent situation in which I dealt with this was in a Martial Arts situation. For those that don’t know, I’ve been practicing for almost ten years now. I have my red sash in Kung Fu and am an advanced Tai Chi student. One evening I showed up to class only to find that there was going to be a test taking place. Now all this is well and good, except for the fact that when there’s a test, our Sifu takes the test takers through the oral section of the test while the senior students are left to teach the class.
I have done this “successfully” for years. Mostly in these situations, I’m always surprised so I never have enough notice to spiral all day about teaching, which is great. However for some reason, this year, this time, this place, this day, I was not in my best mental state. I was having intrusive, negative thoughts and failing to just breathe and go back to the moment. My heart was racing, I was breaking out in hives at the idea of a bunch of my peers staring at me and looking to me for guidance.
So what did I do? I blanked. It was time for me to teach and I couldn’t think of a single thing to tell the rest of the student to do. I ended up blurting something out in a very chaotic way and making a mess out of a usually very straight forward and uncomplicated drill. My nerves made every ounce of clarity and prior knowledge disappear from my head completely. Class carried on, students were polite and luckily I got to share the teaching responsibility with another student.
But at the end of class I felt like I was going to cry. Nothing is worse than being in a class surrounded by happy people who have just overcome something difficult and you feeling like you are not in control of your emotions. And when I got home, I did cry. Because my section of class wasn’t up to my standards and I felt less than and humiliated.
After a few days I started to feel better. No one had called or emailed the dojo saying they were going to quit after my class.
Everyone moved on and no one cared.
Truth be told, I don’t know how to stop those distorted thoughts that absolutely berated myself for having a bad mental health day and blanking. For me, I had to kind of just ride the wave and experience the emotions in my body and cry it out.
It’s interesting because whenever I see a teacher or a leader figure mess up it always makes them more human and relatable. I think that is what I am going to take away from this experience. If that night, the junior students saw me mess up and not be my best then they won’t hold themselves to ridiculous standards when it’s their turn to teach and then they can have more fun with it.
The irony of all this, is that I’ve been told I’m a fabulous teacher. I bet this is due to my high amount of empathy. It’s good to care about things deeply and passionately, but it’s also good to assess where you’re at and forgive yourself for being human. Bonus points for accepting your mistakes with grace.
I know situations like this will come up again and next time if I don’t feel up to it, I will speak my truth and say I need to be a student. Or, if I chicken out on setting that boundary I will practice self-compassion and self-kindness because it’s always remarkable the things we can do and accomplish that we never give ourselves credit for.
There’s something to be said about having the bravery to show up. And also, something to remember is that failure doesn’t exist. If something doesn’t go as planned there’s always something to be learned and gained from it.
*Check out my "3 Things Perfectionists Need to Hear" video: HERE