Monday, November 10, 2014

When Messing Up Becomes Making Right

I started this post three weeks ago, and it's taken me this long to work up the guts to share it with you.  Funny...I'm ordinarily an open book.  Some things are just really that big of a deal.  

I stunk up the dance floor in my tap class last night.

My feet were sluggish during the warm-up routine, and I struggled to shift my weight and keep my balance during each component.

I totally forgot the break during the paradiddles, and I'm pretty sure I wasn't quite on the beat anyway.

I could not get off of the ground for the Irishes or the Buffaloes.

There are at least two of our regular time steps that I haven't quite mastered yet, and I lost ground on both last night.

Let's not even get started on the last dance sequence.  Our teacher gave very brief instructions that everyone else seemed to understand, but which to me were gibberish.  As we were doing these two at a time back and forth across the floor it was VERY obvious that I didn't know what I was doing.  Even after four passes across the floor I still had only figured out the first half.

On the way home, as I mentally reviewed the evening, I found myself welling up.  The tears broke free with a sob or two, and I had to take a little moment to pull myself together when I got home.

Believe it or not, this was a good thing.

You see, I wasn't crying because I had failed or because everyone else was so much better than me or because I was frustrated or angry or any other such thing.

I was crying because  realized that I had given myself permission to fail....that it was ok - for the first time in my life - for me to not be perfect...that even if I wasn't the best of the best I could still love it and enjoy it with every beat of my heart.

My friends, for me this was profound.

I was very, very young when I figured out that I had to be perfect.  I want to be perfectly clear that this was really no one's fault.  My parents aren't mean, I'm not crazy, and there was never some traumatic event that would have triggered a negative emotional spiral.  Rather, it was caused by the perfect storm of my own idiosyncratic personality traits combined with normal familial expectations.  (OK, maybe slightly higher than normal family expectations...I do, after all, come from a long line of ministers.)  What my parents SAID was, "We expect you to do your best."  What I HEARD was, "You absolutely must make straight A's, take all of the most difficult classes, win in every extracurricular you do, and hold yourself to a moral standard that would make most grown adults weep."

You see the problem?

It shouldn't surprised anyone that the perfectionism I developed at such a young age has crippled me, and I don't use that word lightly.  I don't really want to go into great detail (Goodness, no one wants to read that.), but for the sake of this post I think you should know about the two big issues that perfectionism has created.  First, I live in fear.  I'm terrified of failing, and so I'd rather not try.  Second, I'm really, really mean to myself.  My self-critic is the size of Everest, and she's nasty.  Like I said...crippling.

Which leads me back to that drive home, and my realization that I had given myself permission to fail.  Can you see now what a huge, amazing gift that was?  It's something that I've needed for more than 20 years....and now that it's arrived it's potentially a life-changer.

As this is such a big deal for me, I've given some thought to the curious question of why it's ok for me to not be perfect in tap class.  What about this particular experience makes it ok for the first time?

I have a few ideas which might explain it.

1.  During the second class I was able to look around and realize that others are having as much trouble as I am...at least one person even more.  There are ladies in this group who've been in the class for a while, and who performed beautifully during the recital last spring.  They are all perfectly human, though, and have good and bad days and different levels of accomplishment.  There's not a single soul in that classroom who gets everything right.

2.  It's a no judgement space.  The teacher has said it, the other students have said it, and I feel it.  Perhaps that's enabling me to let go of the judgement of myself.

3.  Ditto that it's a no competition space.

4.  It's also a happy spot.  Everyone wants to be there...including me.  I've NEVER felt this way in an exercise class before, even though they've all been voluntary classes.

5.  Just as importantly, it's a welcoming spot.  Those are some really, really nice women.  They immediately threw their arms open and welcomed me in...many of them making sure to take the time to either help me or share their own experiences when they joined the class.  (And there is a comforting uniformity to those stories!)

6.  I know I'll get better.  The fact of the matter is that it's been 20 YEARS since I had a tap class, and while the body retains memory - enabling me to jump into this more advanced class instead of starting over with a beginner class - it does take time to fully pull those skills back out again.

7.  Along with that, I know exactly what I need to work on, and that helps.

8.  This class is allowing me to reconnect to a part of myself that I thought was lost years and years ago...and that part of myself lives in an entirely positive heartspace.  

Then again, maybe there isn't a reason at all.  Maybe it was just time.  Maybe I was just finally ready and open enough for the lesson to come into my life.  Maybe I just needed to loosen the heck up.  Who knows!

The only thing I can say for sure is that my future now feels open in an entirely new way.

Possibility, my friends.

Possibility is what happens when you learn that it's ok to fail.

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