I was exhausted from always trying to prove myself to other people, constantly trying to seek their validation. No matter how passionate I was about something, my perfectionistic motives turned small stones into giant boulders. Even simple tasks felt immense, I became paralysed with fear. I felt pressured, I was afraid I would be ridiculed, rejected and shunned for being less than perfect. My thoughts before I ever did an assignment or a task was “This needs to be perfect so that the teacher/professor/colleague is impressed by my work”. Yet, I would do the exact opposite, I did nothing and felt bad about it. I procrastinated & avoided the mountain I had made out of a molehill.
Most of my life was not lived for me but to prove to others, to show them that I was exceptional, worthy to be liked. I cared too much about what other people thought, I needed their approval, praise, acceptance and reassurance. Perhaps this need for acceptance came from being bullied for the first 3 years of my schooling life. Sitting under a tree alone, I wondered why I didn’t have friends, why they called me weird, I somehow I concluded if I was perfect and agreeable the other kids might like me. I think this is probably when my social phobia started, I was afraid of being rejected for doing things that I had no idea I was doing.
I never felt like I belonged, something that has resonated with me throughout my life and into adulthood. I always felt comfortable with the misfits and ‘outcasts’. I suppose back then I thought the lack of belonging was down to not being good enough. When in reality it was probably quite the opposite, I never belonged because I was far too different from my peers, I was on a different wavelength entirely, aged 5 whilst they watched cartoons, I watched Attenborough documentaries and practiced life drawing.
For a long time I had been ruled by perfectionism and it made me miserable. To make matters worse it just exasperated my social phobia. Everything was hard and unenjoyable, whenever I failed at something, I took it very personally. I internalised that failure as my fault. I imagined those naysayers were cheering with their popcorn and pompoms at my failures.
Nothing changed in my life and I lived in fear, until I made a New Year’s resolution a couple of years ago to get out of my comfort zone and my life changed in one year. I said yes and forced myself to do all the things that I would normally feel uncomfortable or scared to do. I started small, it felt big at the time and I was terrified but, I decided to talk to one random female every day to help me get over my social phobia. Later that year I finally got the courage to talk to my first male (I was usually too anxious to hold eye contact or a conversation that lasted more than one word), I started public speaking, I got scouted, I got rejected by agencies, I decided to model freelance.
I finally felt the winds of change and opportunities started opening, because I created them. I wasn’t afraid to put myself out there. I got addicted to trying to get rejected, it was a rush every time I put myself out there. Once you get so used to the idea behind rejection, failure and rejection will have no power over you. You realise, the worst thing that can happen is you get rejected and that is not that bad at all! The most powerful lesson of all I learnt was that rejection is a temporary state. With persistence you can change that rejection into acceptance, because nothing in this world is absolute.
Once I learnt to let go of the fear that held me back, I was able to finally do the things that I had always dreamed of, that too all in one year! These are the things I learnt on my journey from challenging myself that books don’t teach you:
+ No one really has time to think about you, they’re too busy worrying about what everyone else thinks of them. If people have time to talk about you they are either admiring or envious.
+ When you learn to stand up for yourself and leave your comfort zone, you will lose some friends – but you will be grateful to who is there for you and not for what you can offer.
+ You let go of your need for validation from others. You value yourself, your thoughts and your opinions above all others, because the only person who really matters to you is you.
+ Persist & persevere, you are stronger than you think. True strength is not measured by muscles or how much weight you can lift, it’s measured by getting back up no matter how many times you’ve been knocked down. Persistence overcomes rejection.
+ Always have self-belief. If you truly believe in something and keep trying, nothing can stop you.
+ You understand yourself better. That understanding attracts opportunities to you. You start to stop being bothered by what other people think because it makes no difference in your life.
+ You’ll stop seeking validation from the outside world and find it within yourself.
So let go of perfection, stop fearing what other people think and challenge your comfort zone. It will be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.
Originally Published on WordPress Blog March 2014