You are possibility & wonder, not perfection
I grew up well-versed in the ways of perfectionism. My idea of control was a dazzling one. I was a Wizard of Oz in my own right. If I could just learn to pull all the levers correctly, I trusted myself not to disappoint. There was no need to look behind the curtain, just watch what I can do. I focused intensely on school. My handwriting was beautiful, my answers buttoned up, my papers were thorough and calculated. But it all failed to make me feel secure.
That is because you cannot 'perfect' something into existence.
I couldn't perfect a body I felt total confidence in.
Or an image of success I longed to project.
Or a person to give me a deep sense of security that I craved.
Things were a little off. The math didn't work. I invested everything I had and still came up short.
So I got to working that lever system good and it gave me stuff: small wins, momentary approval, little pats on the back to make me feel deserving. The worst part was the false sense of hope it gave me, which was really just smoke and mirrors.
A series of small tragedies befell me
The stain of heartbreak, a strand of unfulfilling retail jobs, the disillusionment of waiting for a writing dream that never came true. I remember one night pushing back the double-doors of the mall employee entrance on a clear night watching the moon rise. I just stood there and stared, believing deeply that all the magic of life had vanished. I had nothing left to give. Life felt artificial and meaningless.
The gap between reality and my expectations loomed, so I waited. Surely this was just a streak of bad luck. I just needed to work harder on perfecting those details. And that's when the gavel of disappointment fell again.
Steeper falls. More waiting. Deeper rejections. Longer silences.
I felt like I was the kicker for my dreams and God was that mean goalie shoving rejections back in my face. I tried to work the levers harder, drop the right hints, do the kind of prayer gymnastics that won the holy a prize from the heavenly slot machine. When the formula broke down, I started to panic.
I lost my ability to differentiate between the experience of failure and my identity. Now they were the same thing. And things went dark for awhile. I went to bed crying hot tears of defiance, of anger against God, tears of deep loss. I was a person grieving for the version of life I was living. I wanted something different. Anything different.
So I tried just turning off my emotions for awhile. Days passed in endless cycles of routine. I had lost my spark and I didn't care anymore. I felt disqualified from the adventures in life I'd dreamed, like a burned out light bulb that makes mechanical sounds when you shake it.
One of the unfortunate things heartbreak teaches us is to numb instead of feel
I lived life like that for a good six months, with a complete lack of empathy for anyone else's pain. I was inept to face my own. Maybe for some of you it's been like that for years.
I came to the crossroads that we all face: to believe that there's more, or to opt out and make my home in a 'No Man's Land'. Being self-absorbed in my failures was not a fun lesson, and it was only when I started losing my grip on the levers that I discovered something.
The desire for perfection started falling away, and all I wanted was to be brave.
We've all got checkmarks in red next to the reasons why there's no hope left for us:
We're too old to chase the dream.
The funeral is over.
The divorce papers are signed.
The deadline has passed.
The letter says 'We regret to inform you'.
The best history is written by those who are willing to change their minds. You were meant for wonder and possibility, the real honest-to-God, hand on the electric fence kind of hope. And it's not too late for you.
I always remember testing those live wire electric fences as a kid and the shock hurt a little at first. Something I miss about childhood is that you accept the pain that comes with learning without fielding it as an insult. It's just part of the experiment.
It's fascinating how those electric fences can keep a herd of thousand-pound animals behind it. Truthfully, it's a little sad. Fear teaches them not to step outside the box. Our own disappointments are like that, threatening to deliver an innocuous shock if we defy the bounds of what we believe is possible.
Maybe you're not ready to feel the shock again. Hurts are the devil that way. But do a little bartering over the fence. Let wonder and possibility show you life to the full. You might turn your ankle a few times getting there, but don't hold back. You were made for this.