I spent the first two decades of my life obsessively concerned with what others thought of me. I was shy and withdrawn, thinking it easier to keep quiet than to face criticism or rejection. I was smart, kind, well-rounded, and the bashful-brilliant type of cute. But I thought that I was weird, nerdy, shy, and too skinny, with disproportionately large hands. I didn’t watch TV, play video games, drink soda, eat high-fructose corn syrup, or despise school; I generally had nothing in common with my classmates. I thank my parents now but, at the time, that kind of sucked.
Because I believed my classmates to be an ever-judging superior species, I feared not only participating on the playground, but in class, as well. I dreaded wondering whether the teacher might call on me–even though I always knew the answer, I would freeze, fighting to maintain a steady breath and dry eyes. I worried about everything. Anxiety was the backbone of my daily life.
I was not only in need of the perfectly normal introvert “recharging time,” but terrified to emerge from that space of solitude and security. To be anywhere but home and with anyone but my immediate family, sent me into a mildly panicky shut-down mode.
Over the past few years, I’ve realized that everyone is more concerned with themselves than others. The people around us neither notice nor care if we trip over our own feet, mispronounce a word, or are a few pounds overweight. The scenes of failure we replay over and over in our minds are nearly always instantly forgotten by our friends and peers, or become–at worst–a playful joke. The fears that plagued my mind for over twenty years were trivial, insignificant and, truly, non-existent outside my murmuring mind.
I recently had a long conversation with a good friend; we caught up on life events, stellar books, and the ways in which we can weave inspiration into our daily lives. A recurring theme and the big takeaway from the discussion was: Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
I’ve realized with time that all of my shortcomings stemmed from setting exceedingly high standards and then not quite achieving perfect. I would get 97% on a test and beat myself up for not knowing George Washington’s middle name. (Trick question! He didn’t have one.) As I watched my friends grow into their bodies, I cursed my flat chest and boyish figure, because I saw them as abnormalities; I saw who I was as a bit of an anomaly. When I did something nice for others and was neither thanked nor rewarded, I felt cheated. Doesn’t everyone know that you’re supposed to treat others as you’d hope to be treated?
All of the trials of my childhood emerged from expectations, namely the expectation of perfection. Everything that I determined to be “wrong” with my life was perfectly divergent from my concept of ideal. If I needed to wear Limited Too, Abercrombie, and Tommy Hilfiger to be seen as attractive and cool, than anything short of childhood-designer was not going to cut it. If I couldn’t just force myself to speak up and be sociable, than there must be something deeply and inherently wrong with me. After a lifetime of straight-As and nationally recognized math scores, failing calculus–twice–meant that I suck at math and, most likely, everything else.
When we set our standards at perfection, falling short by mere millimeters is often interpreted as utter and complete failure, to the most extreme degree. There is no such thing as perfect. There is nothing wrong with striving for perfect and achieving good; which is further than you’d have reached without aiming so high. It’s important for us to credit ourselves, to slow down and recognize how far we have already come. As a recovering perfectionist, that’s an area in my life that still needs much attention. It is an area I will likely never have the freedom to ignore.
However, I’ve grown better at letting go of the idea that everything needs to be perfect; I’ve forced myself to regularly pause and acknowledge my accomplishments. I still worry a lot, though not about appearance and not knowing the answer. Now my hesitations dwell in the realm of who I am becoming. Are my ideas worthwhile? Would people pay me to do what I love? What if I don’t have the courage to follow through on my dreams? What if I become so overwhelmed by my existential questions and wanderings that I simply stop showing up?
The questions are deeper and heavier, yet more manageable than those of my youth, because they emerge from a place of self-awareness and self-exploration. I know which questions to ask, and I know who I can approach to find the answers my soul is ever-seeking.
About two years ago, one of my mentors and teachers, who prefers I refer to him as a friend, introduced me the true meaning of warrior. A warrior is not a soldier, a victor, or an impenetrable beast; a warrior does not strive for perfection nor physical strength. Rather, a warrior practices absolute vulnerability; a warrior knows that every battle we fight is on the inside, and she strives for unbounded acceptance, presence, and the spiritual intuition necessary to uncover love and meaning in every situation.
My favorite yoga instructor, too, regularly explores the theme of warrior, sharing similar adjectives. Once more, it’s explained that true warriors are non-violent, champions of the spirit. Based on text from the Bhagavad-Gita, the warrior poses in yoga commemorate those who battle with the universal enemy–self-ignorance, the ultimate source of all our suffering. The pose, the practice, and the meditation is rooted, again, in inner-strength.
I feel that I am on the path to becoming a warrior. I am exercising my inner strength on a daily basis–learning, practicing, applying, teaching, and living my truth. In my spirituality and recognition of the universe within me, when I’m feeling strong and centered in Warrior III on my mat, and when I share my understanding of the life of a warrior with those I engage with, I feel my self-wisdom–and subsequently–my power grow. But, it’s not the same type of power that my young, worrisome self would have attributed to the one who enters battles and fights to the end.
When I muse over and play with the word, I find “warrior” to be highly empowering. I can be quiet and unassuming, yet unfathomably powerful and brave. I can fight my battle and defeat my demons and then, with a quite strength and calming presence, return to this word of chaos and lost souls to impart my wisdom to anyone willing to listen. And to repeat this cycle indefinitely, learning and teaching. To remember the torturous pain of worry and self-ignorance, and to continually strive for the strength, centeredness, and the recognition of unending love under all circumstances. To transform, over the course of a lifetime, from compulsive worrier to the 1-in-100 warrior who hold the power to help lead the others home.