Around the Campfire with Laurie: Avoiding the Perfectionist Trap: How to Embrace the Discomfort of Growth
Whenever we are faced with a challenge, a competition, or a new task, I think most of us fall somewhere along a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum are the Perfectionists. The Perfectionists strive to be perfect, constantly working themselves into knots to be better, stronger, faster, smarter, and never letting anything but success be the result. On the other end of the spectrum are the Perfection Avoiders. The Perfection Avoiders feel that perfection is not possible for them so they avoid the attempt and may not even try because they don’t think success is possible. Now, here’s the thing, the magic lives somewhere in the middle and in the ability to slide up and down the spectrum from Perfectionist to Perfection Avoider. You see both ends of the spectrum, avoid stepping out of their comfort zone and are failure averse. When you step out of your comfort zone, when you are forced to face failure, that is when you grow and learn resilience. That is being a Growth Embracer.
The Perfectionist. Growing up, that was me. I was a “Good Girl.” I said yes, I worked hard, I did the “right” thing. Consciously or unconsciously, I portrayed a sense of having it all together and worked hard to cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s. It was exhausting and anxiety provoking. And then in college, “it” happened in a big way. I got a D as a final grade in a class. Way far from Perfection. I remember thinking my life was over, my parents were going to be so disappointed, I would never get into graduate school, I would never get a job. Failure was profoundly painful for me because I did not see it as part of the process and a normal experience. I had avoided situations where I could fail. I had done everything to control all the pieces so I wouldn’t fail. And then I did, in my eyes, “fail” and I did not know how to process and learn from that.
The Perfectionist Avoider. When it came to sports, that was me. I knew that kicking, throwing, hitting, shooting, and generally anything that involved team sports was not something I was going to be great, or “perfect” at, so I avoided them. I didn’t try to learn. I didn’t sign up for lessons. I didn’t take the risk. I avoided playing at all. It didn’t matter if it was organized sports or pick-up games, I would opt out because, in my head, there was no chance in me being perfect so why bother. This was a failure for me too. Had I signed up for lessons in a sport, I could have learned some skills to have a bit more confidence. Had I joined a team and practiced those skills, I could have improved. I may not have ever been great, and certainly would not have been “perfect,” but at least I would have gotten the opportunity to try and be part of the team. I failed in this way because I didn’t try at all.
Growth Embracer. Failing at something, not meeting expectations at something, feeling that that result or setback defines you, that is tough stuff. Whether you strive for Perfection or are a Perfection Avoider, you are so, understandably, caught up in the result and end-product that you miss the growth and reward of the process. You know what, that’s the secret here, what defines each of us is not the end-product, not the Perfection or Perfection Avoidance, but the growth and how we approach a challenge, trying something new, stepping out of our comfort zone. When we realize that the growth and learning, the building of resilience, is what defines us, that is what is going to push us to be our best selves. As I wrote about in my Blog “Growth Lies Outside your Comfort Zone – Even for Adults”, I took the risk to start taking dance classes again in September. The growth as a dancer and in my own level of grit and resilience has grown tremendously since I decided to be a Growth Embracer. And I could not possibly be any more-proud or more-happy than I am in dance class and in my ability to be perfectly imperfect.
At Echo Lake we believe that in order to be a great camper, the two things you must do are be a good person (kind, nice, helpful, respectful, etc…) and try hard. Not be the best, just try. Put yourself out there, give it a shot. We believe that there is magic in trying something new or attempting to do more with something you love. We believe that growth happens just outside your comfort zone, so we are going to encourage you to take that step. We believe that it is an important life lesson to not be successful at something, realize that failure didn’t define you, pick yourself up, and try again. It is your grit, your resilience, your trying hard, that makes you your best self and will make you better as you grow up. In fact, we ask our Staff applicants to tell us about a time when they “failed” at something during the interview process. We are looking for them to tell us how they reacted to that set back and what they did to move forward afterwards. We know that reactions to challenges, persistence, positive attitude, and resilience is what will take campers and staff far in life. It’s certainly NOT being “perfect.”
So, my advice to all of us is…GO. FOR. IT. Try. Fail. Get up. Try Again. Try a Different Way. Whether-or-not you achieve that Perfection you are hoping for doesn’t even matter. What matters is what you learn and experience along the way!! As far as I am concerned, true perfection is not being right, or the best, or the smartest, or the most talented. True perfection is stepping outside your comfort zone. Try something new, try to learn more of something you love, try something different, and no matter how much you achieve, I promise you, you will learn, you will grow, and you will realize THAT is where the success comes from, not the end product. If you are looking to avoid the Perfectionist Trap, then tell yourself every single day, that the only way to truly succeed is to try, and fail, and try again, and that the only thing that is ever “perfect,” is trying hard and growing along the way. Being a Growth Embracer, that is what is truly perfect.