Last week, I failed.
I was challenged to an impromptu writing exercise with the rest of my peers in the Elephant Academy. We had five minutes to create a blog post in WordPress—complete with a title and image and the whole shebang—about a mindful tip from whatever came to our minds.
But I froze. I panicked. I went blank—and what I was able to come up with was complete and utter sh*t.
Immediately following this exercise, I suffered major shame attacks against myself.
“F*ck this, I should just quit. I can’t handle this. I’m no good.”
I proceeded to add to my emotional distress by comparing myself to the others after seeing how well some of them did.
“They are much more talented than me. They are the real writers. I’m an imposter.”
I wanted to crawl into my bed after the meeting and go to sleep so I could forget about everything that had just happened—in fact, that’s exactly what I did.
See, the thing is, I like to consider myself a mindful person—I make intentions to be aware of the small but significant moments in life. And I enjoy sharing these stories with others—as long as I can text it or email it to you, and give me at least 10 to 20 minutes to go over it all so it sounds perfect and pretty and magical, and then go over it again.
I also love taking pictures and “savoring life intensely,” as Marc Riboud said. But what initially catches my eye, what is already beautiful on its own, I find myself critiquing after I snap the photo and begin to upload it to my Instagram account.
“Is this the perfect filter? I think it needs more saturation, a little less brightness, more contrast.”
“This angle isn’t that flattering. It could be better. Let’s take five more pictures.”
There is no flying—my wings are clipped and I’m stuck in a cage.
Why? Because perfectionism, that’s why.
I started struggling with perfectionism when I was about 13 years old, as I was influenced by magazine, television and celebrity-culture messages that told me I needed to look a certain way to be beautiful and successful and loved—to be good enough.
Insert the toxic romantic relationships that followed.
This perfectionist mindset quickly overflowed into all the other areas of my life—work, school, goals, friendships—you name it.
I pressured myself to keep everyone happy, act gracefully, maintain that “hot bod,” never complain, always smile, never say no, 4.0 or bust.
My life needed to be a pretty, perfectly wrapped package with a fancy-schmancy bow on top.
So when I decided to embark on this creative endeavor with elephant journal, the perfectionist inside me started screaming, because the creative process is messy, uncertain and requires vulnerability.
Even as I write this now, I don’t know exactly what direction it’s going to take. And it’s brought up some thoughts of self-doubt, because why am I not typing the first and final masterpiece in one setting?
“Failing is fine.” This is the piece of advice that Waylon Lewis gave us all at the end of our meeting that night.
In that moment, he gave me more unconditional love than I knew how to give myself.
Those three words remained stuck in my head, and I was able to find the humor in the situation, to let it be and to understand the lesson in it.
The perfectionist inside of me, inside of all of us, stems from our human need to belong.
Those voices that criticize and ridicule, that cause us to feel anxiety and pressure and paralyzing fear—it’s just the part of us that wants to do well, to be loved and to be good enough.
And it’s okay, because we are enough just as we are in any given moment as we move through the highs and the lows, the extraordinary and the mundane, the accomplishments and the setbacks—all the necessary parts of our never-ending process of evolution as human beings.
The next day I hesitantly went back to my laptop, and when I started to hear the words of perfectionism creep in I thought back to myself, “It’s okay. Failing is fine,” and I kept writing.
It was only when I gave myself permission to be okay with any outcome that I was truly able to dive into my creativity.
And it was a liberating, fulfilling experience.
Working with elephant journal has taught me more than just about how to be of benefit to others as a writer. It’s also taught me how to embrace processes as they are happening instead of only appreciating the lessons in hindsight.
I learned what it means to live a mindful life.
I’m not saying I won’t struggle with these thoughts and fears again. In fact, I definitely will.
And it’s okay—I will love that part of myself that just wants to be loved.
And I will keep writing—sh*tty pieces and spectacular pieces. I will get accepted. I will get rejected.
I will tell people I love them—some will reciprocate, some will not.
I will cry. I will laugh.
I will be confused. I will learn.
I will travel alone—I will get lost, but I will find myself.
I will follow my curiosity all the days of my life.
I will stumble. I will climb.
I will grow back my feathers, and I will fly.
What will you do?
Author: Brianna Miller
Image: Rori DuBoff/Flickr
Editor: Emily Bartran