They say that perfectionism can lead to depression. Countless studies explain how perfectionists continually set unrealistic standards for themselves, and feel like failures when they fall short on their expectations. Anything less than perfect is unacceptable, yet perfection is unattainable. It’s one thing to feel as though you’re not good enough unless you’re flawless. Imagine being told that, over and over. This is a story about how my childhood sport distorted my adult reality. First, imagine you are a child competing in the biggest gymnastics competition of your life.
You begin with a perfect 10.
Your mistakes, or the lack thereof, are what define you in this moment. You are just a number attached to a score. You are scrutinized by a panel of judges whose sole job is to not let an error go unnoticed. You can feel your competitors’ eyes digging into your back, begging you to screw up. You can hear your mother’s heartbeat from the other side of the gymnasium. You go through the motions that you've rehearsed a million times. Your coach’s words ring in your brain. Point your toes. Suck in your stomach. Chin up. You look sloppy. That was awful. Do it again. Do it better. Work harder. You’re not going to win the competition. You’re not going home until your routine is perfect.
Wobble. Deduction. Bent arm. Deduction.
You perform each of your skills as best you can with an arena full of people staring at you, and a stomach that is twisted up in knots. Your heart rate picks up with each mistake that you make as the panic sets in. You need to be perfect. But that wasn’t perfect. You are painfully aware of the silence that is only broken by the sound of your feet on the 4-inch wide beam. You just want it to be over.
Finally, you dismount and pray that you stick your landing. Step. Deduction. You’d think that the worst is over. You’d think that you got through the most nerve-racking part, but as you stand on the cement floor waiting for your score, you realize you forgot how to breathe. You cannot take your eyes off of the scoreboard as your coach relays to you everything that you did wrong. You weren’t perfect, you know that.
All of the hours you spent training, all of your tears and injuries, all for nothing. And there it is. Your score. Your defining factor. It’s not a 10. You weren’t good enough.
Next, they post your deductions - all of your mistakes magnified and put on display. You begin with a perfect 10, and what you end up with is a failure in the form of a number. Before you have time to berate yourself, you’re moving on to the next event. You still have 3 more to go.
Again, you begin with a perfect 10.
When you are taught at a young age that success stems only from perfection, you are set up for a life of disappointment. The more you let yourself down, the less confidence you have in yourself. You eventually get to a point where you stop trying, you stop putting yourself out there, and you give up on yourself because of your fear of failure. The thing is, lack of perfection does not equal failure. It equals humanity. We are not made to be perfect, and that’s okay. Making mistakes is okay. Not being the best at something is okay. The only thing that truly matters is that you do what makes you happy. Success will follow. This is something that took me a very long time to learn.
For me, depression was unavoidable. Years and years of perpetually feeling inadequate really takes a toll on the human mind. I passed up a multitude of opportunities along the way because I was afraid of what the outcome might be. I couldn’t stand the thought of failure. I hated competitions, just in case I lost. I felt that if what I was doing wasn’t perfect, I might as well not do it at all. I wouldn’t try new things. I decided I would never be good enough. I reflected this outlook on all aspects of my life; at school, at work, even my appearance. It was completely debilitating. I always had "perfect 10" mentality.
The truth is, the perfect 10 is a myth. It doesn’t exist. It wasn’t until I allowed myself to understand this that I stopped drilling myself with irrational fears and expectations.
I allowed myself to live, and to live is to be flawed.
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