Can you see the heart in the weeds?
I call myself a recovering perfectionist. A friend recently said I was no longer recovering, that I’ve made it. All I need is to settle into this new way of being. I like to think that’s so. What I do know, I’ve learned a thing a two about perfectionism.
I got two postcards back-to-back from my grandson in Taiwan that really tweaked this whole issue for me. He usually writes every seven to ten days. But these are dated 5 days apart. No doubt for his excitement with his achievements. The list is stellar. It’s easy to understand his pride.
“The day before yesterday was sports day. It was super fun. I had a running race again; this time I won,” he wrote. “My drawing is in the high school; it was chosen. It’s a drawing of a tree with a swing on it and me standing beside the swing. . . Last Thursday and Friday I had exams. I got 99 for math, I got 96 for common sense, and the whole class only I got 100 for Chinese. I was shoked <sic> and happy. I didn’t know that would happen.”
I’m not sharing here to boast, tho I certainly could. He’s only 7. + this all portends well for his future in a culture that’s competitive, with less higher education slots than number of students. I’m sharing because of what happened inside me when I read his cards. After my WOW.
You see, none of his stardom surprises me. He truly is bright, observant, and curious. Truly considers what he sees, and works to make sense of the world in a way that uses his heart and mind.
I want to cheer him. I want to tell him what a star he is. How proud I am. And I want to give him something more. Something to hold on to, and know about himself when he’s not perfect. Something that will stave off perfectionism. The kind of perfectionism that serves bright, curious, exceptional children, but can choke them, too. Like I saw bloom in my 9-yr-old great-niece recently. A medal winning gymnast, Olympics bound, who wanted to destroy poems she wrote that she found less than perfect.
So, I wrote my best hope back to him:
Dear Chevalier – Yea YOU!
Oh, my goodness. You are certainly showing how smart – talented – and fast you are! Remember when you said you wished you were Flash so you could run fast enough to win the race – and I told you ‘3rd was good, just do your best. You’re as good as Flash.’ Well, now you won. Without being Flash. Just being your best right then. And next time, whether you’re 1st or not, you know you’re a good runner.
And your drawing is on display at the high school! You are a fine artist, and everyone can see! You’ll always be a fine artist. You know that now, right? Even when others don’t see, you’ll draw like artists draw, with what they see in their minds. Yea!! With what you see in your mind. Because you’re an artist.
And oh, my goodness – 96, 99, 100 in school exams. I am not surprised. You know why? Because you are curious, and interested in the world around you, and ask questions, and want to learn. All the smartest people are curious and interested in the world around them. They want to learn, like you. Your daddy is like that, too. :-))
So, now you know these other very important things, too. When you do your best, you may surprise yourself. And there’s always a next time to try.
I included a little yellow pin that says Bee’s Knees.
I don’t know if my letter will make sense to a little boy. But he saves all my cards, and one day may read it again. With my reminder, he may remember the conversation we had when he was here about how artists work. May remember how he felt free and satisfied when he did his own thing. He may even remember I told him he was as good as Flash. What I hope he remembers most, tho, is someone praised him for Who he is, as well as what he did.
Because I understand where he’s at. I was in the exact place when I was 5. My younger sister shared she observed the pressure I was under to perform and deliver, all wrapped in praise and encouragement. And decided she didn’t want that pressure for herself. Her way out was to randomly mark the answers on the aptitude tests when she started school. It didn’t bother her they thought her mentally challenged. I imagine the anger our father expressed in her defense probably made her feel special. She chose her path with no regrets.
It took years for me to break the bonds of perfectionism and reject feelings of not-good-enough. To discern when perfectionism serves, and when it doesn’t. To simply let things ride, and know I’m okay, anyway. To quit earning my breath, and understand in my cells my perfection is in being fully who I am – growing, making mistakes, and learning as humans do. I still have bouts when it snags me. But I know how to find my way out.
He may never respond the way I did. My letter may be imperfect. But it’s a gift I can give him today.
Isn’t he amazing?!
Another Small Journey. Getting to Wise.
A Writer’s Life.
Tell me. . .what snags you up?
I’ll tell you a secret. . .I did go ‘huh?’ on that 96 in common sense, wondering what they based it on.
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