A few days ago, I talked about loving what you love. True joy is bound up tightly with authenticity. We don’t find joy by striving to be cool, hipster, or conventional – we find joy by being real and true to our soul’s quirky preferences.
But while I was busy baring my decidedly “uncool” musical preferences, I touched briefly on something that I want to return to without being distracted by the unholy combination of Meat Loaf and Hilary Duff in the same sentence. We use a lot of standards to judge and suppress our joys. Coolness and conventionality are some. So is perfectionism.
I have this idea that I need to be “good” at something to enjoy it. No, I need to be perfect at it. I’ve backed out of countless plans because I worried I wouldn’t succeed, I would look foolish, I would fall short. No matter how much I’d looked forward to those plans – going dancing, painting, taking a new class at the gym – my fear of imperfection played the trump card. So I stayed home. Watching TV might be boring, but at least no one would think I was bad at it.
For as long as I can remember, my joy has run up against my natural ability. I was born loving to move my body and remind myself that I am alive by walking, dancing, swimming, biking. For the first several years of my life, I lived in that blissful state of self-assurance found only in kindergarteners and Beyonce. I truly did not know that, by all conventional measures, I was not good at these things. Eventually, as it always does, the other shoe dropped.
How can I describe my lack of physical coordination? Words fail me, so just pick your own description, and be sure to use the words “baby giraffe on roller blades” somewhere in there. I moved like my limbs were entirely independent from my body. I fell in every possible way there was to fall. And my body just couldn’t move as quickly, deftly, or flexibly as it was asked. I loved the act of moving my body, but that joy was battling it out with the rising tide of teasing, self-doubt, and cultural standards of success. And joy lost. For a while.
I struggled for years against the belief that I wasn’t “supposed” to enjoy being active because I wasn’t good at it. “Good” meaning successful, flawless, and above the 75th percentile or so in comparative measures. Embarrassed at my inadequacy, I sought other activities at which I was more conventionally “successful” – namely school, work, and pleasing others.
But joy can only be kept down for so long. It works on its own terms
Over the years, I’ve made my peace with being active. As I’m healing and rediscovering my energy, I’m remembering that I might not be able to swim very fast, but I love the feeling of slicing through the water. I might fall over in mountain pose during yoga class (just to be clear, that’s the position where you stand still with both feet on the ground), but I crave the clarity and energy I find there.
Even still, I’m terrified of so many things I enjoy but don’t “excel” in – or might enjoy but am too scared to try. Painting, photography, art journaling – all items on my NO FEAR list that I’ve been avoiding for fear of inadequacy or failure.
Like always, Mary Oliver came through for me recently. “You do not have to be good,” she says in her poem Wild Geese. “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”
We have to give up the success. We have to give up the failure, for that matter. Dear God, we have to give up the debilitating perfectionism.
We only have to love what we love.