The Marvelous Crumb

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I’m not a perfectionist, I just want to “get it right”

Perfectionist Headstand Prep

I’ve never considered myself a perfectionist.

I didn’t think it was a gene my messy, fun-loving family possessed.

While growing up, B-average grades were regularly praised.

Our home answering machine message was a secondary rhyming “family rap” in which we all wrote a line and ended with an exuberant “oh yeah!” No one found this embarrassing.

Outfits for family pictures were coordinated with a request to wear any shade of “purple pastel.” Naturally, interpretations varied.

My mother’s artwork including an oil painting of the ocean depicted by a cascading chocolate-colored wave hung in places of prominence in our “formal living room.” It was unclear to many why the wave was brown but mom confidently stood by her artistic choice.

It wasn’t that the bar for success wasn’t set high, just that attaining that bar wasn’t a primary focus. Instead a full tank of optimism, resilience, and creativity, as fuel for hurdling toward any goal, was most highly praised in the Blackwell household.

Taking cue, I’ve pursued a career enjoying my journey as a writer and dancer. These are certainly not pursuits with high prestige (or money making potential), but my family has never questioned my choices. In fact, when my artist sister decided to study laboratory sciences in college we were all incredulous that she wasn’t an art major. “Are you sure?” we asked repeatedly. “But you love to draw!??” I digress.

Somewhere on my path, I unlearned the free-spirited, express-without-fear teachings of my youth and began an affair with scrutiny.

Maybe this started while working in the deadline-driven, perfection-imposing magazine world, or perhaps even earlier, during rounds of 6:00 a.m. cheerleading practice synchronizing the staccato of our calls. More than likely though this creeping pressure to “get it right” is the result of some internal default that’s petrified others will see how wrong, imperfect, foolish, uneducated and incorrect I am. How truly terrifying.

I have willingly edited my thoughts and words into oblivion, deemed my pursuits unworthy and hidden them from curious eyes, let “friends” critique my being asunder – all this, I now believe, is the result of the slow vine of perfectionism surreptitiously wrapping around until I was unknowingly consumed.

Given my inability to identify perfectionism as a personal challenge, I didn’t realize its crippling effects until I encountered its opposite: My 2-year-old niece.

Last week, I traveled to Salt Lake City for a weeklong celebration of her birthday.

During this time, cupcakes were consumed for breakfast on most days.

Stairs were climbed, descended and climbed again.

“No!” (declared with a direct certainty) became a favorite word

Spontaneous somersaults happened in the kitchen, on the bed and (almost) in the elevator.

As my niece delighted in her 2nd year in this world, I marveled at all she’s learned in such a short period of time, and all that I’ve forgotten in my 34 years.

Her exuberance for exploring, trying and doing was not diminished by the occasional redirect, tumble or bump on the head. She continued on without concern about doing it right, worrying if she was a bad person, or what someone might think of her decision to paint the counter in delicious blue frosting and toss the boring cake part on the floor. I imagine she was driven by feeling rather than thinking, and that feeling was Wheeee!

In contrast, I saw just how my inner Wheeee! Has been choked by a fear of not being the best, or liked, or looking stupid, etc.

Here are just a few of the ways:

  1. A long list of “what ifs” have kept me from submitting a column to an online journal that has expressed interest in my writing and would actually pay.
  2. I long to do a headstand in the middle of the room during yoga, but I’m scared.
  3. My attempt at cat eyes looked more raccoon than sex kitten. I have not picked up the eyeliner since.
  4. What would it be like to dance freely in just a sport’s bra during Shimmy Pop class? I don’t know because my stomach is not “flat enough” for the spotlight.
  5. My spotify playlists include a file named “choreo,” which are songs I’d like to choreograph and teach. Has this happened? Noooope.

I don’t think I’m the only one with a list like this, and when you look at it all written down, it’s kinda sad. I can’t help but ask, for what reason do I hold myself back? Why have I become so afraid?

In her tumbling, independence-seeking glory, my niece reminded me that the key to success in any pursuit is a willingness to accept the 3 big Fs: Failure, Falling Down, Looking like Fool – all with an air of detached nonchalance.

So without further ado, a tummy-bearing headstand with cat eyes:

The perfectionist does an imperfect headstand

 

It was scary. I fell down several times. And then, I laughed.

I guess this is what it is to be alive.

 

10 Comments

  1. I loved this post so much. I have recently been toying with making a list of all the things I’ve been unwilling to do (because I wouldn’t look good doing them, and therefore must avoid doing them at all costs). Is karaoke in my tone-deaf future? Can I brave the expressions of people being embarrassed for me? I really f’n hope so.

    • Kelsey

      May 17, 2016 at 3:41 pm

      Weeeee! I just love this quote from Audre Lorde: Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down, and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end. And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had … And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because I think Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.

      • I love the honesty in your writing Kelsey. Like so many of us humans, together, yet isolated, your writing connects and inspires . I can feel a lovely warmth that causes me to smile. Thank you so much.

        • Kelsey

          May 23, 2016 at 11:38 am

          Cheryl, thank you for these kinds words. I’m humbled and inspired that you find my words offer such connections — more fuel for continuing on. Big smile 😀

  2. Sophie Schultze-Allen

    May 25, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    Love this!! And you even did your handstand in a sports bra, looking awesome! Failure is so under rated in our society today. A friend of mine told me about an article she read where someone listed their “resume of failures attempts” since a resume only shows what you achieved but not all the things you applied for and tried to get. Taking risks could be valued more if we celebrated those attempts too! Thanks for your always intriguing stories!

    • Kelsey

      May 27, 2016 at 12:55 pm

      I love the idea of a resume of attempts! Something about that word feels so much kinder than failure. In fact, I think it conveys a truer meaning of trying anything knew which is bravery. We shall attempt on!

  3. Kristie Blanch

    May 29, 2016 at 3:53 pm

    I remember well the answering machine message recorded exuberantly by your family! Hotshots! Oh yeah! I love this post. Examining my own list of pursuits I’m too fill-in-the-blank to attempt.

  4. Kelsey?
    What could I do?
    How could I play?
    With you today?
    To help…
    You see…
    To help you find,
    Your way…

    But wait…I see!
    You are free!
    You are free!
    Just being Kelsey!
    You are free!

    You are beautiful and…
    You are wild and…
    Dancing along…
    Like God’s darling Child!
    I love you…
    You bring tears to my eyes.

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