I struggle with perfectionism, competition, and comparison. I need to enter a 12 step program and I need to find one quickly. It has been a battle that I’ve fought my whole life. You see I’ve created this gold standard that I need to drive for, and the standard is excellent, perfect, the best. I feel like I must be the best or at least rank with the best to be validated. One rarely meets this standard of excellence or perfection. I don’t know anyone that can say with complete certainty that they are the very best. My problem is when I don’t meet my unrealistic standards, I become my own bully – I claim “I suck,” or, “I’m bad,” or “maybe I should just quit.” My personal self-critique is unhealthy, bad for my self-esteem, and a poor example for my daughters. But how does one learn to silence this inner critic?
The flip side of perfectionism is that it has been a driving force and led to success throughout my life. It has driven me to excel at school and always shoot for the honor roll, to graduate from law school and pass the bar, to relentlessly work to represent my clients to the best of my ability in the courtroom and beyond. However, if I don’t get an A in a class, if I’m not in the top 5% at law school, if I lose a tennis match, if my writing is not published or responded to, then my inner bully gets to work dragging me into a mini depression. Why write? You’ll never be a writer. You’re not smart. An endless from the harshest critic.
How come the balance scales so heavily tilt to the critic rather than the champion? How do words shouted in praise get swallowed in whispered criticism?
Life is a pendulum. I swing high and rejoice, but gravity will pull me back down. A constant shifting of tides as the earth moves slowly around the sun. None of our stations are permanent. Constant changes and shifts will bring us high then low then high again. I must find the love from inside myself to create an internal equilibrium as I am swept up and then swing back down, knowing I will soon be up again.
The joy of the swing.
“Higher, higher,” my big girl shouts as I push her and she sails through the air. I push the little one too and she squeezes the chains with both hands. Her knuckles turn white and a grin spreads across her face.
“When I close my eyes it feels like I’m going to fall,” my big girl explains as her big brown eyes squeeze shut, her feet in the air shooting above me as I continue to push this toddler who more and more is becoming a little girl. “But I don’t fall. It just feels that way.” She laughs. Up she goes and then back down. She delights in the ups and downs, how it makes her stomach lurch, her eyes gently closed.
“I love the swing,” big girl states.
“Me love swing,” my baby says in her unexpected low gravelly voice, which always makes me smile.
I watch them swing back and forth, the chains squeaking loudly, a loud moaning chorus to the ups and downs. I like the swing too. The ups and downs are what it is about. There is no such thing as perfect. No life comprised only of successes. Gravity always brings us down.
How boring and lonely life would be if we all lived atop the highest peaks and were never able to venture down into the valleys below. There is beauty in the canyons carved out through the passage of time. You fall into these canyons, the valleys, and the grasslands and you see the rivers, cliffs, pines, spruce, aspens, wildflowers, wildlife … Life. The return trek up the mountain is intense. One scrambles for a decent hold that doesn’t crumble beneath your fingers. Your foot slides down as you search for solid ground. You fall. You cross tree level. Life becomes scarce. But eventually after climbing, working, and struggling you reach the summit. You see the sky. The sun. The clouds. The apex. The majesty. The endless possibilities. You are alone. You feel grateful for all that you have seen along the way. You breathe. You rest. You know the descent will soon begin.