My son has a tendency towards perfectionism.
This in itself is not a terrible thing. We haven’t put him into therapy, he’s reasonably well adjusted, his room still looks like a grade 5 cyclone has torn through it. Aside from his need to line his shoes up in perfect rows.
The perfectionism comes out at school. He’s brilliant at maths, because there’s a very clear right answer. And conversely, a very clear wrong one. At least at this stage of his educational life.
The challenge comes when the answer is not black and white. When his own opinion comes into play. Then his perfectionism kicks into high gear, because he can’t operate if there is no “right” answer. His mind can’t make sense of the question, he starts to panic, he procrastinates, he runs out of time to answer the question, he forgets to ask for help.
The result is that he can be afraid to take risks. And it’s holding him back.
We’ve started talking a lot about the importance of being a risk taker. Both of my children’s schools place risk taking high in the list of qualities they desire in their pupils. I always struggled with this as a concept, until I saw how fear of new challenges played out in my own son. And I started to think about how my own fear of the unknown has impacted my personal development through the years.
I am, by nature, a people pleaser. I like people to like me, and become distressed when conflict arises.I try to avoid conflict by doing what’s expected of me, doing the right thing. While I am far from a perfectionist, my need to do the right thing results in the same situation as my son is experiencing – I’ve been afraid to take risks.
This has played out throughout my work life. I’ve been afraid to push myself forward professionally, until I felt that I completely possessed the skills needed. I was never prepared to step outside of my comfort zone, for fear of letting down my colleagues and my clients. That I might be “told off” for getting something wrong, creating conflict, and a view that I wasn’t good enough. Better to make safe decisions that keeps everyone happy, than take a risk and get into trouble.
It also means I can find myself in situations where I find myself being pushed by others to do something that I am not comfortable with. I don’t want to create conflict, so I go along, for fear of risking a relationship. Which made for some interesting times when I was a teenager!
Slowly, over the last 12 months, I am reversing the habits of a lifetime. The first step was quitting my long term career and stepping into the unknown, to pursue a career in food. The second was learning that risk taking is sometimes not as obvious as you think it might be. Sometimes, it’s sitting back and letting opportunities present themselves to you. To allow things to happen, rather than trying to control them. To be brave enough to let go, instead of trying to steer the plane. To jump and let things fall as they may.
I had no clear path when I left my well paying job. I have been asked to return many times, and have been tempted. My inner coward would rather return to the fiscal safety of permanent employment. Fortunately my new inner sky diving, bungy jumping, free falling heroine is becoming dominant, and is committed to pursuing the excitement of the unknown.
That said, I still feel fear. I still worry that I might not be good enough. That I am kidding myself. That my cooking isn’t enough, that my writing isn’t enough, that my photography is worse than average. Fear is ok. Fear prevents complacency. Fear drives improvement, a desire to be better. But it shouldn’t override bravery. It shouldn’t become a barrier to new challenges or new ideas.
I still have no real clear path and I’m ok with that. It took 6 months to start writing. Another 3 months to start writing about my emotional and physical wellbeing. I’m still evolving, and new opportunities are presenting themselves to me every day. I’m open to what the fates may offer, and finally feel brave enough to take the risks associated with the unknown.