I had just put my daughter to bed, filled up my big water glass and curled up on the couch. I had the remote handy while I clicked around online. Just a few minutes into my Friday night wind-down routine, the lights flickers once, twice and then poof!
The house was dark. REAL DARK.
Before I could even move, my kiddo began screaming as loud as she could in a terror-filled voice I’d never heard before. She didn’t quiet down to take a breath or hear me shouting, “I’m coming! Hold on! Just a second! I’m on my way!”
Her bedroom shares a wall with the living room, so it’s not like I had far to go. And thanks to the light of my computer screen, I could see for several feet down the hallway. I pulled open her door and said firmly, “Annalyn! Stop it. I’m RIGHT HERE.”
I shuffled over to her bed with memories of her messy floor and my decision to wait for morning to clean it up. Then we walked up front and proceeded to have what I called “a little adventure.”
She was clearly terrified by her unexpected plunge into darkness, and I understood. So I did my best to stay upbeat and reframe the unusual evening as a fun adventure for the two of us. We lit candles, went on a hunt for flashlights (WHY do we have four flashlights and ONLY ONE that works?!?), and eventually hopped in the car for a drive when I realized my phone would die soon.
While my phone charged in the car, we ate pie at Perkin’s and arrived home to every light in the house burning brightly. (The aforementioned candles were not burning brightly, however. Just in case you were concerned.) I tucked her back in bed and tucked the whole experience away in my mind.
Until the night several days later when she refused to go to bed because she was afraid the power would go out again.
“What if it does, though? What if the lights go out in all the rooms and it’s dark again and I can’t see anything and what if?”
Reminding her that out of the approximately one thousand nights she’s slept in our house, the electricity has only gone out once didn’t help. Neither did reminding her that I came to her room immediately and we actually had a fun little night when the power went out.
In case you were thinking of nominating me for Mom of the Year today, I should probably tell you that yelling at her to quit being a baby didn’t work either.
Because my sweet girl is also a smart girl and has proven quite capable in the manipulation department, I just wasn’t sure if she was truly scared or if she was using it as an excuse to stay up late. Once she asked me the following question, though, I knew something real was going on in her little head. She said, “But how do I stop my head from thinking about it, Mommy?”
Oh, baby girl, if only I knew.
Obviously I know – IN THEORY – how to stop fear in its tracks. I know about thinking happy thoughts and praying for courage and protection and singing Sunday school songs or One Direction songs (you know, whatever does the trick). I know about reason and logic and thinking about it, really thinking about it.
But even though I shared with my little girl all the tricks I’ve used since I was her age and suffering from recurring nightmares, I knew that, in the end, the choice was hers. She had to choose whether or not to be scared.
As a perfectionist, I choose fear all the time.
Several months ago I was contacted about speaking at a large women’s conference. I was thrilled. I enjoy speaking and sometimes feel that I do it well, and I’d really like to speak to groups more often. This felt like a huge opportunity.
So huge, in fact, that I built it up to epic proportions in my head. (Like I do.) And that’s when the fear slipped in.
What if I blow this opportunity?
What if they hate me?
What if I don’t have anything useful to share?
What if I get tongue-tied or make offensive jokes in my nervous state?
What if I am not good enough?
Once those fears started bombarding me, the procrastination wasn’t far behind. They go hand in hand, you know. I feel afraid that I can’t live up to expectations – mine, someone else’s, or both – and so I put off getting started. Even though I know that I am skilled in this area and will feel better once I just get started, I wait. And wait. And WAIT.
And this time? I waited so long that by the time I decided to stop choosing fear, it was nearly too late. It is only by the grace of God and the sugar high I got from mainlining about 20 mini candy bars that I finally got to work and went to that conference mostly prepared.
You want to know a few things? First of all, the moment I scraped up an ounce of discipline and practiced my presentation out loud, I remembered that, Yeah, I really am good at this.
Second of all, even though I felt great and prepared in the end, the first (of FIVE) session I taught was terrible! It stunk and I went directly back to my hotel room (with more candy bars in hand, if you must know) to revise my presentation and think through my approach. But – here’s the giving up on perfect and getting on with life part – I survived. And, if you twist my arm, I’ll admit that I think my other four sessions were awesome.
It turns out I didn’t have anything to be scared of. Failure (or a less-than-stellar session) didn’t kill me. And success wasn’t as hard to accomplish as I’d feared.
Choosing fear is not smart. It’s not, friends. It wastes time and saps our energy. It steals our sleep and our thunder and our dreams. And more than likely, those fears are really just lies in disguise anyway.
Have you ever found yourself choosing fear as you fight perfectionism?
This post is part of 31 Days of Giving Up on Perfect. I won’t be talking about skirts and saleswoman every day this month, but I will be working through a whole lot of ways I need to kick perfectionism to the curb in my life. For more 31 Days, visit The Nester.