I realized something about myself a couple weeks ago, although I think I've known it my whole life. I was sitting in my Spanish class and my teacher was talking to a girl in front of me. My teacher seemed happy to be talking to the student, and in my head I couldn't help but think that I wanted a teacher to like talking to me. It was then that I realized that it isn't just teachers I want to like me, I want everyone to like me. Here's the thing: I know not everyone is going to like me. I've heard this countless times in my seventeen years. However, does knowing something stop you from wanting it to be true? Not in my experience...
About a year and a half ago, I was sitting in my mom's room having one of those talks where I ask a question I've been thinking about for a while and then she comes back with a pearl of wisdom and possibly a Brené Brown quote (usually a Brené Brown quote... love you, Momma). On this day in particular, my mom skipped the quote and grabbed an entire book entitled Daring Greatly. There was something about not needing to be perfect, and how being imperfect can actually be a good thing, and then we both started to cry because that's just what we do sometimes. Remember when I talked about how much I love A Separate Peace? I was reading it at the same time I had this conversation, and I realized that the reason I was so jealous of my friends was because they seemed to do everything perfectly, so I felt like I had to do the same.
I tell you both of these stories because I am convinced that my want to be liked and my problem with perfectionism are related. I have always been a perfectionist. In fact, my very first journal has a three page entry (huge handwriting, but still) about how I felt like nothing I did was perfect enough, and I felt that I had to work harder than everyone else. I wrote this when I was around ten. When I was twelve and in sixth grade, I have very vivid memories of sitting at my purple desk and doing my science homework the night before it was even assigned because I knew I'd be able to jump ahead in other things.
I wanted to impress. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be perfect.
During elementary school, academics was the one thing I really prided myself on. I did assignments early, I asked for extra credit, and I would study for spelling tests while sitting on the bathroom countertop during lunch (another very vivid memory). As I've mentioned before, I didn't like football or soccer or basketball, and since I didn't think I was any good at them, I didn't try. My mindset was stuck in this idea of perfectionism from a young age. If I didn't succeed the first time, I forgot about it. I figured that people wanted me to be perfect, so I didn't let them see anything that wasn't.
This problem continued throughout elementary school and into my first year of high school. I had started taking guitar lessons in eighth grade (even though I've had my guitar since my eleventh birthday), but then quit because it was one more thing I was stressed out about. I kept playing, though, and I told some of my friends that I could. This then led to my sitting at the front of the chapel holding a guitar with one of my best friends sitting next to me. In hindsight, I probably should have realized that if the chord said D/F# and you don't know how to play it, you shouldn't just play a D and hope it sounds the same. Surprise, fifteen-year-old Claira, it won't. I left the chapel feeling embarrassed about both the chords I used and my strumming. I left my first period computer class and sat in the bathroom and tried not to cry. I was sure that everyone was going to judge me based on one performance. Unfortunately, I haven't played guitar in front of anyone ever since.
There are a bunch of other stories that I could tell about my history with perfectionism, but I'll save those for another day. For now, I'll say that I'm still working on not giving up on things just because I fail once. My biggest problem with all of this is that I figure that if I don't succeed in something, people won't like me. When I wasn't cast in Les Mis like I wanted to be, I assumed my music teacher didn't like me because my voice wasn't strong enough. When I failed a chemistry test a few weeks ago, I figured my chemistry teacher didn't like me because of it. My Sophomore year when I couldn't do a forward role in gymnastics, I was certain my PE teacher didn't like me. In general, if I can't do something right the first time, I'm sure I'll be disliked because of it.
Yes, I know this sounds ridiculous, and that's because it is ridiculous. My teachers don't hate me just because I can't do something as well as someone else. I'm not going to be judged for not being able to play guitar perfectly my first time playing in front of people. And I am certainly not going to go into gymnastics as a career, so really I shouldn't let the fact that I can't do a cartwheel bother me. I'm a perfectionist, but I'm learning to not let my imperfections bother me. It's a hard lesson to learn, but I'm working on it.