By Hailey Joy Scandrette
For as long as I can remember my script has been perfection. It’s a story I’m so good at telling myself that I can do it in my sleep. I always have an idea of how I should be acting, thinking, and feeling in order to measure up to my standards of being “right” and “good.” These standards are impossibly high and are pretty much never met. But still, I haven’t learned how to turn off the voice in my head that says that if I can’t do the right things, think the right things, and feel the right things 100% of the time, then I am not worthy of love.
I’ve written about perfectionism before. Multiple times, actually. And every time I do, it feels like such an obvious thing to write about because it is my constant companion and restraint. It was really hard for me to write this month because I didn’t want to write about perfectionism. It feels trite and self-indulgent to spend so much time trying to untangle myself in the writing that I share with the world. I wanted my reflection to be insightful, universal, and profound, and to contain some new revelation… because that would be a perfect reflection, right? So, I wracked my brains thinking of another example of the stories I tell myself or the dominant narratives in our culture that I am tempted to buy into. I thought of a few other examples, but at their core they all came back to perfectionism.
Fortunately, just the other day I was presented with a very appropriate reminder about why this prompt came to me in the first place. This week I’ve been helping my dad host a group of high schoolers on a learning and serving trip to San Francisco. On Wednesday afternoon I lead them in the portrait activity from this month’s action. We talked about how most of us construct a false self based on the stories we tell ourselves or the dominant narratives of our cultures, and about how it can be extremely hard not to base our sense of self and sense of worth in these constructions. All too often this prevents us from fully embracing ourselves and from acknowledging the truest things about us: that we are beautiful, capable of all the we need to do, and, most importantly, deeply beloved by our Creator. After explaining the “false self” and “true self” portrait exercise, I passed out printed pictures of the kids that I’d taken earlier in the week–two of each person–and markers, crayons, and colored pencils and gave the students 45 minutes to work on their portraits.
When we came back together we sat in a circle and each of this kids shared about their “false self” and their “true self”. I know, this sounds like kind of an awful thing to subject high schoolers to, but they were all very supportive and respectful of one another. I was struck by how impactful individuals’ vulnerability was to other members of their group. When everyone had shared, we asked the students how that experience had felt. One girl remarked that she was surprised by how many other people shared some of her core insecurities and struggles. Another said that she felt less isolated after hearing other people share about their “false selves”. This was the reminder that I needed.
Sometimes I get caught up in saying the “right” thing–the most impactful thing, the most relevant thing, the most provocative thing. I underestimate the importance of instead saying the authentic thing. It’s easy to feel like writing about myself and my heart is self-involved and unimportant because it likely won’t impact large numbers of people. But authenticity is an amazing antidote to isolation.
So here’s the honest, unimpressive truth, here’s what holds me back, here’s what keeps me from embracing greater wholeness: I am terrified that eventually my inability to handle every part of my life perfectly will ruin my relationships, my plans, and my ability to matter, at all, to anyone, ever. This is the fear that keeps me awake at night, that makes me overanalyze my interactions with the people I love, that makes me hesitant to try–because what if I fail and have to add one more flaw to the ever-growing mental list? Somehow my inner critic is able to convince me that the rules of grace and compassion that I’m comfortable applying to everyone else, don’t apply to me. It zeros in on my flaws until I am convinced that I am somehow worse than everyone else in every way. All of this is obviously ridiculous. When I’m in a good head-space and reflecting on the times when I’m captive to the nagging voice it’s embarrassing to admit that I get so wrapped up in something so untrue. But in the hours where I am wrapped up, every nit-picking, overly critical self-analysis seems to be completely logical.
I know for a fact that I am not the only person I know who sometimes lets their inner critic completely cloud their vision of reality and of themselves. It’s difficult to talk about the things that we feel make us unlovable or unworthy, but as the students reminded me on Wednesday, sharing those struggles is important and impactful. If my story, or your story, allows just one person to feel encouraged that they are not alone in their struggles, then that is a gift.
I have found it’s easy to mistake isolation for protection. It’s not. Especially when you’re your own worst critic. So, I’m trying to take more risks by being open and authentic about my imperfections, even when I’m terrified that they make me unlovable. Instead of allowing myself to be trapped by a pathological need to be right, I’m trying to look for the ways that God and people are proving me wrong about myself.
Author Bio: Hailey Joy Scandrette is a senior at San Francisco State University studying US History, and Counseling. When not ears deep in primary source analysis and note taking, she enjoys thrift shopping, writing, climbing trees, and going on long walks with her friends and family. She is passionate about social justice, living incarnationally, loving and serving others, and almost anything else that she has any opinion on.