New Year, Gentler Me

I love the idea of New Year’s: the midnight kisses and champagne toasts – a festive sendoff to the prior year. But glitzy dresses and swanky soirees aside, I admittedly feel a certain pressure as one year ends and another begins. It’s this pressure to have a sense of closure, a clean slate if you will, by the time the clock strikes twelve. Before we ring in another year, we’re supposed to let go of it all – the “mistakes” we made, the resolutions we didn’t adhere to, the painful shortcomings, the words we wish we never heard or uttered, the ones who let us down. But being someone who has a hard time letting go, New Year’s or not, you can imagine this expectation is somewhat of a challenge for me.

I should have prefaced this by saying I’m a jaw-clencher. Some people carry stress in their backs, I carry it in my jaw. I’m usually someone who does well under stress but this particular stressor does not serve me well because it’s one that is never satisfied. It’s the unnecessary stress to be perfect. It sounds silly saying out loud, because I’m well aware perfection doesn’t exist, but I’ve somehow convinced myself that anything less than perfect is failure. “Fine” and “okay” are two words I despise. It’s exhausting and it’s ironic. I’ve spent a good portion of my life striving for perfection yet I’m not even sure what that looks like. 

I used to believe perfectionism was primarily a strength – something that would catapult me into success, whether it be in my career or my relationships. I was fueled by this thought Dr. Brene Brown illustrates in her book Daring Greatly: “If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.” There’s a control factor in this equation that is very appealing to me. From my reputation to group projects, a sense of control has always made me feel as though certainty is within reach. I LOVE certainty! I mean, who doesn’t? Aside from the fun that spontaneity can bring, we’re a species that seeks answers, wants closure, likes to be the writers of our own fates. I’d always believed certainty and perfectionism went hand-in-hand. I thought that by achieving perfection, I could be certain of the best possible outcome. But I’ve learned through my own shortcomings – those moments when I was thrilled with a project or performance and others didn’t share the same reaction, or the times when I gave relationships my all and the other person still didn’t feel it was enough – that you can never guarantee an outcome or have control of how others perceive you, even when you’ve strived for the best.

You see, perfectionism is the ultimate time suck, draining every ounce of your energy since whatever you do will never be good enough. It’s the bully. It’s the critic. It may start out with good intentions, but it will never be your #1 fan. Without you even realizing it, perfectionism quietly builds a fence that keeps you from your dreams because of the fear that, god forbid, you’ll make a mistake.

It’s why I struggle to let go at times. As much as I would love to be the girl who brushes things off, that’s simply not who I am. In the past, I’ve rarely taken the time to recognize the things I’m proud of, instead focusing on the things I could have done differently or ultimately, “better.” Similarly, I could receive a handful of compliments, but choose to concentrate on that one maddening piece of criticism. I can also let a single, small, not-so-proud-of-myself moment become this huge, shame-spiraling, end-of-the-world deal, as if I’m the only person to have ever drank a little too much or put out less-than-spectacular work. I’ve cringed time and time again at my flawed moments, quickly fetching a broom to sweep up my imperfections before anyone (other than myself) can judge me. But in doing so, I’ve failed to understand that it’s actually my imperfections that make me interesting, that make me relatable and lovable, that teach me valuable lessons, that make me human.

We’re well into the New Year and I admittedly won’t be making a grandiose resolution to uproot my life. I won’t cut out sugar, vow to be up and at the gym by 6 a.m. every morning, or beat myself up if my critical ways creep back into my life. I won’t be setting impossibly-high expectations like I’ve done in the past, only to reprimand myself later if I don’t uphold them. Instead, I’ll be making a conscious effort to be a little gentler with myself every day. To give my critical eye some much-need shut eye, if you will! I’ll leave room for mistakes, celebrate my victories, let go of my constant need-to-know, better accept the things I can’t control or change, and loosen my jaw a little more every day.