On Monday I had the privilege of speaking to a group of students at Belmont University. I love speaking, I love college students—everything about it should have been perfect. The problem was even by “Belmont talk round 4” I still had no idea what I wanted to say.
I do this sometimes when I’m writing. Most of my brain is trying to string thoughts together, but there’s this chorus in the back of my mind. It says, “be brilliant, be brilliant, be brilliant,” like a train chugging down the tracks.
Now, I’m sure you can imagine, but writing when those words are leaning over your shoulder is almost impossible.
Lost in my screen, my brow furrowed, I wrote in fits and spurts. My talk was in less than 24 hours and I was stuck. I tried one tactic, then decided I hated it, deleting furiously and starting again. Nothing I wrote was good enough, nothing I wrote was brilliant.
Finally, after hours of wrestling with my laptop, I abandoned it for the moment, wrapped a blanket around my shoulders, and wandered into the living room pathetically. Ignoring the couch completely, I plopped onto the floor feeling very sorry for myself, and very scared that the morning would come and I’d still have nothing to say.
I lay on the floor for a long time, staring up at the ceiling. What can I say that’s brilliant? How can I organize my thoughts in a way that’s life changing? How in the world am I going to make this perfect?
But after a good long time, I finally had a thought. It struck me with an abrupt pop, as the best thoughts always do.
What if I stopped trying to be perfect, and just tried to be me?
The thought stopped me in my tracks, because it’s not a thought I’ve had much recently.
It’s a thought I think very few of us have had recently.
Whether you’re a writer, of a businesswoman, or a student or a mom, whether you’re a wife, or a paralegal, or a teacher, or nanny, I bet you have a similar refrain going through your head. “Be great, do this perfectly, don’t make mistakes, don’t screw up.”
I think we all do that. We all want that, we all want to be great. We want to be the best moms, the best wives, the best employees, the best bosses. And so we put that kind of pressure on ourselves—the pressure to be really great, to be brilliant even, the pressure to be perfect.
But the thing I realized as I was lying there, pathetic and stuck in my quest for perfection is this:
The pressure for perfection is paralyzing.
I knew what I wanted to say to the students at Belmont, but that pressure formed a barricade, blocking my thoughts and ideas from coming out like I needed them to.
And so from my position, teary and overwhelmed on my back on the carpet, I had another thought and it went like this: What if we stopped trying to be perfect and just tried to be us?
What if instead of trying to write the world’s most perfect talk, I just showed up and had a conversation? What if instead of trying to be the perfect mom, you just showed up and were you? What if we did that for our husbands, and our employers, and the students we’re teaching?
What if, instead of trying to be perfect, we just showed up and were us?
My friend Ally does lots of speaking like I did on Monday, and before my talk she gave me a piece of advice she’s learned along the way. She learned that when she’s trying to be perfect— trying to write the perfect talk, deliver it exactly like she practiced, never straying from the notes—she delivers her very worst talks.
On the other hand, when she shows up and is open hearted, having a conversation with the audience and just being her, that’s when she does her best.
So what if we showed up open hearted instead of perfect?
What if we took off the pressure to be brilliant and decided to just be us? What if we truly believed that the things inside of us, without the pressure, or the striving, or the working for perfection, were actually enough? I can’t imagine how life changing that would be.
This is going to be my only post for the week, as I hope our Thanksgivings are too stuffed with family, turkey, naps, and football to read blogs. But I’ll be back on Friday with a brand new Loveliest Things, and will be back writing next week! Happy Thanksgiving!