The Perils of Perfection

For the first time in months, I woke up at 5am, started the teapot, brushed my teeth, put on my tights, and hurried out the door with tea in hand. As I drove to the Shala, I lowered the windows and remembered how much I love this time of day- the smell of the air and the stillness. It’s the time just before the sun begins to climb into the sky; when the day is filled with so much potential. Then, why had I avoided this all these months?

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This week I attempted an experiment prompted by my EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) Coach saying “Do you really not have the energy to do more or do you just think you won’t have the energy?” I wasn’t really sure. I tried to think back to a time where I had collapsed from exhaustion and it had only happened once. The one time it happened, the (clinically diagnosed) exhaustion wasn’t because of physical exertion. It was mostly due to emotional stress. At the time, I was a single mom with a baby. I was nursing round the clock, while working a demanding fifty to sixty hour corporate job. At this point in my life, I didn’t really know  how much physical energy I had, and it’s important for me to know because it translates to how many yoga classes I can teach and how many hours I can practice a week.

The experiment was simple. I created a training schedule double what I was used to and I had to stick to it no matter what. Loosely, that translated to four (before dawn) Ashtanga practices, two Crossfit WODs, and ten lessons taught in a week. I’m leaving out paperwork and virtual consultations because they aren’t necessarily physical. Almost immediately after I set the schedule, I started to feel sick-  fever, sore throat, headache, stuffy nose, the whole shebang! If there is anything I’ve learned in the over three decades on this planet, is that I’m exceptional at manifesting illnesses. I have never been able to ‘fake’ being sick to get out school or work and not actually gotten sick. So, I held myself accountable and stuck to the schedule anyway. Maybe I’m stubborn or completely insane, but I did it. And you know what happened? I didn’t die. More importantly, I discovered some incredible truths about myself.

The last day of the experiment was my Ashtanga practice at the Shala. I realized almost as soon as I took the first steps into the practice room, I hadn’t been avoiding my practice, I’d been avoiding going to the Shala. I’d rationalized that driving there and back was adding unnecessary mileage to my days, which were already spent driving back and forth between clients, schools, and studios. What I realized, as I rolled out my ravaged teal mat onto the warm wooden floor, was that I was uncomfortable. I tell my students all the time that the hardest part is showing up on your mat, but until then I hadn’t actually felt it. I pushed on. I mean, I was there. What else was I going to do? Slip out the back?

About midway through the standing postures, a phrase echoed in my mind, “these are the perils of perfection.” That’s why I’d avoided the Shala! I was afraid, not that I wouldn’t have the energy, but that I wouldn’t have the energy to be perfect. It was a revelation that made me feel inspired and gross at the same time. I was afraid that I’d be judged now that I’d really put myself out there- with school programs, classes, a Facebook page, an Instagram, and a blog for God’s sake! Now that I’ve said, ‘I am a yoga teacher and therefore claim some kind of authority on the subject’. I was scared that by being in some way imperfect someone would call me out as a fraud. What if I didn’t have an opportunity to defend myself and say something like, “I can’t do a textbook navasana because I have a tailbone that sticks out like a tail!”

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I am blessed with a child and therefore have a mirror of my own shortcomings. As a fellow perfectionist, she will build an entire lego castle and then kick the whole thing to the ground if she can’t place that final piece in the perfect place. I used to, but no longer, buy Ikea furniture and would attempt to build it myself. Inevitably, I’d come to a place in the process where a screw wouldn’t sit exactly flush against the wood and I would destroy everything I’d built and throw it in the trash.

Voltaire once said “Perfection is the enemy of progress.” Although logically, I know this to be true, sometimes I get so caught up in the process that I don’t see the ‘forrest for the trees’. For instance, I sat down to blog last Friday. I wanted to write a piece about the origins of yoga and the taboo nature of cross training (I will write this piece. Just hang tight). So, I sit down to write, and around sentence two, I get all hung up on Krishnamacharya, his life story, and how he developed his practice. In the two hours I’d reserved for writing a post, I’d written two sentences, read ten articles, and ordered a book (The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace). This type of perfectionism can be seen as procrastination, but it’s different in it’s intention. I can absolutely drown in research trying to get any one thing ‘right’.

Perfection

The solution, I guess, is to recognize the perfectionism as soon as possible and then act differently. Easier said than done, right? I’ve also been meditating a bunch, trying to practice with joy, accepting my shortcomings as best I can, and enrolling in activities that are completely out of my comfort zone and expertise.

How does perfectionism manifest in your life? What are you scared to try because you fear not being able to do it perfectly? What joy are you missing out on because of this fear? I’d love to know.

 

 

 

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