Let me share some adjectives and comments I get from clients and their parents.
Perfectionist. Type A. Anxiety. Stressed. Effortless. Must good at everything. I can’t get anything less than an A. I have to be thin. I have to be pretty. If I could change one thing about myself, I’d make myself prettier. I won’t get into college if I don’t take all AP classes. What if I don’t get into a good college? Then I’ll become homeless. I need to be better at everything I do. I can’t get 8 hours of sleep because I have to keep studying. I recorded my All-District audition piece for 6 straight hours because it was never good enough. By the time I finished I had cried for most of it.
I hear this stuff all the time from clients, some as young as 12 years old. It makes me sad.
Perfectionism sucks. Being a perfectionist doesn’t mean you do everything well. It doesn’t mean you always do your best and are happy with your effort. It means that you never feel like your efforts were good enough. It means that you are never satisfied and you’re always comparing yourself to others. It means you spend all your time and energy trying to reach an ideal that isn’t possible and will suck you dry of any joy in the journey. It means that kids don’t try things they are interested in because they might not do it perfectly. It robs us of growth and keeps us from taking risks that could end up to be rewarding life experiences. So why do so many of us do this, particularly tween/teen girls and young women?
I’ve been using this summer to further my knowledge and get new ideas and strategies for coaching by reading a lot of wonderful books, listening to a ton of podcasts, and formulating my own life experiences into bite-sized commentary and exercises for clients, hoping to guide them and reach into their hearts in a way that makes sense for them.
One comment I came across really grabbed me. Courtney E. Martin, author and activist, said this:
“We are the daughters of the feminists who said, “You can be anything,” and we heard, “You have to be everything.”
The thing is, she said this YEARS ago – in 2007 or so. So really, now these daughters of feminists (most likely you, me, and our friends) are well into our late 30’s, 40’s and early 50’s. What parts of our personal experience are we inadvertently transferring onto our kids? I say this with no blame or judgement but rather with a little “Oh $hit. It all makes sense now.” And it’s not that parents are telling their kids they need to be everything – it’s that the world has shifted to be this place of “more, more, more” with implied comparison, competition and images of perfection everywhere. What are the kids supposed to think?
Perhaps this school year, we could all agree to focus in on the moment, the lesson, and the joy while dialing back on the outcome a little more. I often have to check myself too, asking “What did I learn from this experience that didn’t go exactly as planned?” I find myself having to look at the big picture to see where this little mistake or bad day really fits in. I realize that in “teenager land” the highs feel super high and the lows feel like “bottom-of-the-barrel” low but how can we all guide those in our sphere to feel more joy, see things as a blip on the radar screen of life, and realize that we’ll never get everything done in life and really, we can’t get it “wrong” because one thing always leads us to another with better knowledge? Could we look at another’s accomplishment or success and truly be happy for them, knowing that we too contribute to the world in the way we are meant to? I’m not a particularly religious person (so please don’t quote me! LOL) but what’s that bible verse about looking at the eye and asking why it’s not a foot? We need all the parts! We need a variety of people in the world to make it work well. Let’s teach our kids that perfection is an illusion that social media perpetuates, that we all have something to offer, and that other people’s talents do not diminish our own skills and contributions. This would be a good step to them being proud of themselves and appreciative of others while diminishing the very human urge to compare and compete. We don’t have to be everything. We have to be authentic to ourselves and then show up and share.