“Half of life is lost in charming others. The other half is lost in going through anxieties caused by others. Leave this play, you have played long enough,” Rumi. The other day I wrote about the assignments we are given at birth. How we are given an identity and a role and then we are supposed to select from a prescribed list of lives to be considered worthy/successful in some illusion that we have it all figured out. Human relationships are unnecessarily complicated because we are essentially trained to live up to other’s expectations above our own. We are social animals and we don’t want to let the herd down, we want to be accepted, so we must do what the group approves of and perform.
My family has it’s complications like anyone else’s. For me that meant growing up with large age gaps between my siblings and experiencing adult things way too soon. I experienced traumatic loss early on multiple times, the aftermath of mental health issues, the storm of mental health issues, the near loss of each of my siblings at different points, the perceived loss of my siblings as they moved out, the witness to my parents and their struggles with life, and also witnessing their successes and how they behaved. I certainly was never deprived of the necessities and even some of the luxuries—I was very blessed. But coping with the various things led me straight to the path of perfectionism because I could control everything. I’ve told the story before that when I was five years old, I decided my parents had enough and I wanted to be good for them. Couple that with a few reality checks along the way, and by the time I was eleven years old, I ran the game around performing for people.
I could give anyone what they wanted. I could make them feel any way they wanted—successful, happy, smart. I could give you exactly what you needed in that moment. It was only three years later the weight of giving everyone what they wanted started to wear. Times I should have played with my friends faded away because I couldn’t relate to any of them anymore. I was on a different level, seeking validation from the adults in my life. I spoke differently and behaved differently than they did and was told often, “I wish X was more like you.” At one point that was music to my ears—now I see how hollow that was—and how disgusting. Really, just how unhealthy.
People love the shell we show them. If we’re good enough then they will follow the performance. But that isn’t reality. None of that performing was me. I chameleon-ed myself in every situation and didn’t have a clue who I was well into adulthood. I never once felt external value based on my true identity. I remember the few times letting it slip and allowing my loud self to have some real fun. The adults around me called me bimbo or told me to be quiet. THAT devastated me and immediately the performance started again. My brain immediately went to embarrassment and shame and I locked the real me even further down. And good Lord did I succeed at suppressing myself.
I entered the work force young and holding on to my performance and the story repeated itself. I ended up taking on too much and wearing myself out. I jumped from career to career for a while in the middle, but my MO stayed the same: charming, disarming, over-performing to be liked and accepted. I realized I carried that show with me everywhere, expanding my audience. The stage changed, but I never strayed far from the act. The simple truth is, the voice inside got louder and more obnoxious about the things I really wanted to do and I was tired. That’s a long time to put on a show and to carry things that aren’t really ours and to carry the things we think protect us.
Dropping the habit of perfection takes a lot of work. Hell, I still fear talking to my boss about needed schedule changes or introducing an idea. It has nothing to do with her, I just don’t want to rock the boat at times. But letting go of that shield means getting vulnerable with who we are. It’s a different kind of work than putting on a show. It takes inside work to develop self-worth and a true identity. Who are you when you’ve always been what you’re told? Or what you need to be in the moment? While it may seem a daunting task to answer that, it is well worth finding it. Once you put down the mask and live raw, exposing who you really are, you understand you’ve finally given yourself a chance. You see what really matters. You see how little the act really means as people move on to the next performer. You see how precious time is. You see you never needed permission to be real. The game is rigged anyway, so as Rumi says, stop playing. You have nothing to lose except who you told them you were. You will gain who you really are.