The Perils of Perfectionism

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The meeting with OwnerGuy was more of a check in to see how things were going.  I guess we’ve done similar things before but they were always coupled with the sign up for more lessons.  Not sure if there is supposed to be a regular schedule or if this is just a sign of him trying to do things differently.  I shouldn’t be shocked but I guess they do talk with the instructors to see how things are going and maybe that clues him in as to when he needs to have a conversation with the student.  He mentioned something about Friday nights and how I’ve backed away from taking lessons on Friday night as if that was a symptom of some other problem.  I guess I could have taken that opportunity to talk about what I’m doing but we all have to keep some secrets, am I right?


I won’t go into full details of the conversation but my mental preparation actually allowed me to make a few points without stammering and searching for words.  It comes down to one thing.  I need to feel that he is truly committed to my success.  Given the amount of money and time I spend at the studio, that doesn’t seem unreasonable.  I love dancing and the ability to do something artistic and creative that I don’t get from work has truly helped me as a person.  I know this to be true.  Yes, dancing is a hobby but it has a much greater meaning to me than I can ever explain.  At the same time, it can’t just be the same old stuff.  The practical part of me says I have to keep exploring and keep pushing forward.  Stagnant ponds get covered in algae, breed mosquitoes and generally end up smelling bad.  Not what I want.  I don’t need to be a rampaging white water river but there has to be some current – some sense of movement towards improvement.  It can be a slow meandering river but it still has to get somewhere (OK, I’m intentionally beating that water metaphor to death – I was kind of proud of the stagnant pond thing so I wanted to keep using that theme).


I gave him one example of commitment by asking him when was our last progress check.  I think that got the point across.  Look, I’m not a total jerk and I know that there has been some upheaval at the studio and that he was the only male instructor for some time and I brought that up too.  I don’t want to sound like a whiny diva (the dictionary says that can apply to both genders but I couldn’t really find a good male alternative) who needs constant attention because that’s not the case.  But, I’ll only cut so much slack before it becomes a problem.  We all make decisions about how to spend time and if you are consistently blowing someone off, then sooner or later, the excuse that “I’ve got so much to do” just doesn’t cut it.


Just to give you an example from my workplace.  When you work for a giant corporation, it is easy to feel like a small cog in a giant machine – invisible and overlooked.  And, there are very few people who like feeling that way for long and then it becomes a job that you just tolerate.  To get true engagement, I think you have to give people something more.  All of the perks and stuff help but, in a lot of cases, having a boss who isn’t an a**hole and who actually seems to care about you goes a long way towards fighting that feeling that you are just a nameless, faceless box on an org chart.  As a manager, I’ve got a lot of demands on my time.  If I’m constantly blowing my team off “I don’t have time to talk with you, cause I got to go to a meeting”, then they are going to conclude that my priorities lie elsewhere.  And, the more I do that, then my words about caring take on much less value and become harder to believe and that’s when you breed cynicism and not engagement.  Clearly, I’m not perfect but it comes down to actions and not words and so I’m happy to hear the words but I need to see the actions.


Something else just hit me driving home last night.  I’m serious struggling with parts of this cha-cha routine.  It is not just the whole “stand up and be counted” thing but there are steps that just come at me too fast and I can’t get to where I need to get to.  And, even when I do, it feels clunky and awkward.  Yes, it is that awful awkward phase of learning.


But, my inner perfectionist that sets impossibly high standards has been in control of my last couple of lessons.  It has been awhile since I’ve been truly challenged.  Yes, some of the routines were difficult but not to this degree.  I think that allowed me to start thinking that I should just get things the first time I see them.  And, when I struggle, it is not because I’m still learning, it is because I suck at this.  Instead of allowing myself to believe that I can get this, I start to think that I should have mastered it already and so, therefore, I’m never going to get it and, thus, I must really suck at this whole dancing thing.


I know this is the dangerous part of my personality and I suspect several of you have the same issue.  I am extremely tolerant when it comes to mistakes from my team at work.  I see people who get paralyzed by mistakes thinking they are going to get in trouble and I always try to set the tone that mistakes are expected and that we just deal with them and learn.  The only time I ever get truly upset is when people continue to make careless errors because that tells me they just don’t care and that I can’t deal with.  I’ve got my share of perfectionists on my team and I’m very quick to be supportive when they start beating themselves up over an error.  “This isn’t the first mistake you’ve made and it won’t be the last” is something I’ve said many times.  It doesn’t always help people feel better but it is an attempt to put it into context.  If I’m not upset over what they did and I accept that mistakes are just a part of life, then they shouldn’t be getting down on themselves.  Yet, I can’t give myself a break.  If I was truly a dancer, then I should get this step right away.  It has become so easy and almost natural for me to be supportive of others but I still tear myself down by expecting way too much and then bashing myself for not being able to meet those expectations.


They say the first step is to recognize that you have a problem.  Well, this is likely a part of why I’ve felt so down.  All I have to do is look at the Rumba open routine.  There was a turn in the beginning that was throwing me for a loop but it has gotten better.  I can look at my history and what I’ve been able to achieve.  I can do this but I can’t expect it to come right away.  Some things will but some things are harder and will take time to get.  Stop listening to that part of me that demands perfection out of the gate.  It never leads to any good place.  I have to find a way to shut him down.  Because not only does that little demon get in my head but he blocks any of the positive feedback I get from Kid T.  She tells me I’m doing fine and that little demon that demands perfection says “no, you’re not”.  The last couple of lessons, I’ve allowed myself to listen too much.  Going to have to just bitch slap him into the back of my mind and let myself learn like a normal person.

We did also talk about communication and this is where OwnerGuy made some good points.  He sort of understand my ramblings but said he hoped Kid T and could have that conversation.  Two points that I need to get across.  First, words are not always my friends.  I have lots of thoughts and feelings but they are trapped in my mind because I can’t find the frickin words to express them.  So my blank stares are usually an attempt to try and figure out what to say.  He suggested I just say something like that – that I really don’t know how to express it.  Also, she needs to know that I don’t like making snap decisions.  So, tell me to do something different and then asking me how it felt after one rep is a bit more stressful for me than you’d expect.  If the difference is night and day, then obviously I can say that.  If not, then do I lie since that’s what she wants to hear or do I tell her the truth which I can sense leads to some frustration.  I know as a teach that she needs input to do her job but I get stressed out when I worry that I’m not giving her the right information.  The solution is really to just say something like I don’t know yet, we need to try it a few more times.

In other words:

One comment

  1. From one perfectionist to another, I sympathize. It’s caused me much unneeded pain and heartache. As for your stagnant pond metaphor, you’ve perfectly described the situation at my studio right now, so I know that feeling, too.

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