Dancing alone

I was chatting with a friend recently about how perfectionism looks different for different people. For example, she calls herself a perfectionist, but one who doesn’t care about what other people think of her. People-pleasing isn’t a struggle for her like it can sometimes be for me.

Perfectionism manifests itself in a million little ways. When my friend and fellow writer Lindsey asked me back in the spring if I might be interested in starting an email newsletter with her on this very topic, my first thought was, But I’m not a perfectionist. She mentioned that my blog posts tended to carry a lot of perfectionist themes, just like hers did. I went back to do some re-reading, and let’s just say you can fast-forward from there to last month, when we launched The Drafting Desk. In our first issue, I wrote:

“It’s not a trait I think any of us want to claim—I sure didn’t. But then I took a deep breath and decided to dig a little deeper. I thought about how I have historically made my parents, sisters, roommates, and eventually my husband and children (whoever has had the pleasure of living with me) late because I had to change my outfit one more time. How in college, I rerouted my career path because a couple of professors gave me Bs. How I’ve spent nights lying awake, reliving conversations from earlier in the day, panicked that I said the wrong thing or might have been misunderstood. How I still get so stuck on the fact that I am not the best that my first inclination is to give up on the very thing God has called me to do.” 

My husband and I took the girls to a bluegrass festival at a state park not too long ago. The crowd was kind of sparse, most of the attendees camped out in lawn chairs, legs kicked out in front of them, nodding their heads to the sounds of banjos and mandolins and sampling fried dough from the food truck parked in back (ohhhh, fried dough). We followed suit, and sat.

img_7520My eyes immediately landed on one woman toward the front of the crowd. She was standing, swaying, and clapping her hands. My family looked at each other and giggled. This woman was in her own world, and clearly she loved the music and was having the time of her life. It didn’t seem to bother her in the slightest that not one other person around or behind her was standing. She stood alone, danced alone.

I laughed, but honest? I envy people like that—like my friend, too. They don’t care who’s watching; they’re just doing their thing. Meanwhile, you can hardly get me to dance at a wedding reception. I’ve always been so afraid of looking ridiculous, even when there are 50 other people on the dance floor looking just as ridiculous. It’s one of those sneaky ways perfectionism shows up in my life, even though until recently I’d never labeled it as such.

I scrolled by this Anne Lamott quote (from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life) on Facebook today:

“… what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.” 

I think I’m inching toward a place in my life where this stuff—the worrying over what others think and whether everything is just so—matters less and less. I’m seeing what a waste it is to not participate, to not try something new because I’m afraid of failure or of how others might perceive me. Wise women have told me that this happens as you get older.

It could have something to do with my age or resolve, but I think it has more to do with getting to know Jesus better.

Admittedly, the self-consciousness lingers, in some situations more than others. But I’m finding that the more I hand my days over to Jesus, the more I abide with him and trust him, the less I’m concerned with anyone’s opinion but his.


Click here to see all posts from the Grace, Freedom, & the Rules series.

{This series is part of the Write 31 Days challenge.} 

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