the subjective perspective of an analytical optimist

From Worrier to Warrior

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 I was shy and withdrawn, thinking it easier to keep quiet than to face criticism or rejection.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.

8 Responses to From Worrier to Warrior

  1. Zineb says:

    Hello Erin,

    I just wanted to post a comment today, because I’ve been reading some of your blog posts for months now, and I can never thank you enough for it.
    Thank you for being so open about everything in your life, and for sharing your experiences. I was very much influenced by your writings, your thoughts, and your stories.
    I don’t read a lot, and when I read something in English. I love reading your posts. It’s for me as good as any good book I can find in the library. I feel inspired by what you say. And that’s why I keep coming back.

    Actually, I thought I already posted a comment, and I went looking for it in the blog, feeling stupid for not checking the “notify me” box when posting the comment. But then I couldn’t find it, and I think I never posed that comment, I just thought I did. And since it’s never too late to “leave a reply”. I wanted to do it today.

    I think this blog post about trying to be perfect is really analyzing the situation in an interesting mindful way. Realising that all we do is rush to be something perfect is a great step to stop doing that. It’s true. Sometimes I feel it too. Not being okay with an unfinished assignment. Not being okay with a teacher’s comment. Feeling ashamed for not knowing enough or not trying hard enough.
    Like you say, this love for perfection keeps us from being good. From being free. The key is in knowing that there is a big difference between ambition and perfection, and drawing that big line that seperates them. Being okay with a non-perfect me and let things be.

    I think this must be the longest comment I have ever posted. Thank you again. :)

  2. You and I have had a few discussions about my compulsive worrying, so I found this post to be an interesting comparison of how worry can manifest itself in different people with similar mentalities about the subject. My biggest struggle in life has always been (and at times continues to be) my struggle with worry. I’m the person that may convey strength and sanity verbally, yet on the inside I’m worrying myself sick. It’s hard to not be like this at time, especially when it seems like the world is crumbling at every turn. That said, I think a reasonable amount of worry is what helps motivate us and drive us toward success. After all, if we have nothing to worry about, what will our idle hands do but create chaos?

  3. Chris Walter says:

    This is fantastic :) These are the thoughts we have to reinforce to ourselves over and over again. Just being able to write with this kind of candor and clarity demonstrates how far you’ve come since those days :) So much suffering exists only within our minds and little by little we are letting it go :)

  4. Perfection is definitely one of my biggest barriers. Because of my constant worry and stress to be perfect, I stop myself short from trying new things, which I might “fail” at. I’ve never really had a big failure because I don’t put myself out there in uncomfortable or potentially embarrassing situations. I am trying so hard to overcome my issue with being judged by others, because I think that is so much of what makes me worry and keeps me from exploring new things. Blogging is a step in the right direction for me — starting to express myself in a public format without worrying about who will read it or what they’ll think — but reading posts from others like me is also SO comforting as I try to move forward. Thanks for the inspiration, Erin!

  5. Erin,

    Couldn’t agree more with you and your good friend about “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” Funny coincidence, I just posted about that subject: Fail Better. If you’re curious, here’s the link:

    http://wp.me/p1uLmp-1Fz

    Thank you for sharing this post! :)
    Namaste

  6. sleepydwarf says:

    Great post. I can really relate to all of this. I am on a similar path myself, though it is a struggle at the moment. Thanks for posting, this is encouraging :-)

  7. Brenda says:

    You are wise beyond your years and your ability to convey your struggles as well as the struggles we all face is a gift. Stay on the path, warrior. You are not 1 in a 100, but 1 in a million – even more rare and precious. The world needs you, keep sharing with us.

  8. speech warrior says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I relate to this so much. I am a warrior of self-perfectionism, shyness, the list goes on & on. I was made aware of my problem at trying to be good at everything by a friend. The best thing that happened was I failed at things, despite trying so hard. It was liberating. It put me on other paths. Now instead of putting so much pressure on myself to be perfect I love being good enough!

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