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Lessons from a trying to be reformed Perfectionist

My mom  says I’ve been like this my whole life.

Somewhere inside me, if I don’t get it perfectly right the first time…it’s (and more importantly I’m) not good enough.

And I don’t know about you, but I rarely get anything even remotely right the first time.

It has taken a lifetime to shift this internally.  It has taken a lifetime to learn to be nicer to myself.  To have grace with the process of learning.  To breathe.

Sometimes I get there right away.  Sometimes not.  But every time is a learning opportunity.

Here is what I can say with clarity.  If you think you are doing something sub-par, and those around you who you trust disagree with you.  They are probably right.

An example may help this argument a bit.

Let’s say a certain 40-year old has always wanted to ski.  But fear of tearing ACL’s combined with a paralyzing fear of looking like a fool mixed with liking to be warm stopped her each and every season.

But let’s say she woke up and decided enough was enough and you CAN teach an old dog new tricks and bought herself new OTG (That means over the glasses) goggles that look like some sort of hybrid Bono-wanna-be-Star Wars character.

And piled on every piece of warm clothing she owned–then headed for the slopes.

Now, being a lady of some accumulated age, she knows her learning style.  There are a few triggers she has, namely: forgetting Left and Right in a pinch, combined with really any kind of directional promptings.  She also knows  she needs little victories to feel safe and secure in order to move on without giving into that need to just give up.

We call these little victories:  Self Soothers.  They have taken a lifetime to learn.

So when she ended up as the only student of a ski instructor who was training another ski instructor she was pleased.  They would go slowly with her and she would be safe in her little victories.

But when she found out the beginner “hill” was closed and she would be going down a regular run….let’s say she swallowed hard and hoped her courage held out.

I will skip to the end.

Her friend was there to witness.  As he was skiing down the mountain and came across her he said he was shocked.  He couldn’t believe she was up there.  He stopped and took pictures and movies to commemorate her amazing achievement.  And the two ski instructors who helped her down the mountain kept congratulating her the whole way down. So impressed how quickly she was picking it up.

Here is her internal dialogue when she finally made it to the bottom:  “I am never coming back.  I can’t do this.  I’m horrible.  I looked ridiculous.  I want to be invisible. I’m a coward.”

And she was hearing in stereo around her this:  “You did so fantastically!  Look what you just accomplished!  That was incredibly brave!  You looked great out there!  You are a really fast learner!  You have great strength in your legs!”

It went on and on.

She smiled.  Thanked them.  Said, “You’re too kind,” inwardly angry at their blatant lies.  Then retreated into a wall of self loathing so dense you couldn’t cut through it with the sharpest knife out there.

I share this with you, because you do this too, don’t you?

The old version of me would have stopped there.

Never to don the beautiful OTG’s again.

But this version came home and had a very hot bath.  Some Soup.  Went to bed.  And when she woke up in the morning, this is what she heard in her head…

“You did great!  I can’t believe how brave you were!  You aren’t even that sore after working so hard!  Can you believe how big that run was? ”  So on and so on and so on.

It was the instructors and my friend’s voices in my head, not my ney-sayer party pooper downer thoughts.

And I laid in bed, puppy on my belly and smiled this huge smile.  Feeling the weight of my accomplishment.

I remembered what my friend said to me on the way home when I was sulking silently.  He said, “Just getting in the car this morning was pretty much all you had to do to impress me.  I know how scary that must have been.  And you made it down the mountain your first time up there.  Can’t you see how awesome that is?”

I can see how awesome that is.

See…you can teach an old dog new tricks!  And I can’t wait to go skiing again!