When I was in sixth or maybe seventh grade, there were a couple of girls a grade above me who decided they did not like me. I can't even remember their names. I know I was never aware of having done anything to hurt them. But one day, I was at the library, where I was allowed to spend the time between school and piano lesson all by myself -- that sounds like a big deal these days, but I was 11 or 12, and I walked the half mile or so from there to my teacher's house with no issues for four years of Mondays -- and they were hanging out in the foyer, sitting on the folding table.
I don't remember exactly what they said, but they started calling me. "Mrs. Perfect." It was not a compliment. "You think you're perfect, don't you?" they shrilled, sneering.
Oh, if they only knew. Maybe they did. Maybe those two older girls knew how hard I worked, every moment of every day, to be good enough. And by good enough, I mean the smartest, best behaved child who ever existed. I talked like someone out of a Victorian novel. I used big words. I did all my homework, unless it was too scary and I was afraid I'd fail, and then I waited until the last possible moment and cried.
I was so confused. What did they mean, Mrs. Perfect? Couldn't they see how much I was failing? How far I was from perfection? "No, I don't!" I protested. They laughed.
For the next year, whenever they saw me, they'd taunt, "Oh look! It's Mrs. Perfect!" and I'd die a little more inside. If I were perfect, wouldn't I have been able to keep my best friend? Wouldn't my body have stopped changing into something lumpy and ugly and unacceptable? Wouldn't I be able to do the bent arm hang for more than two seconds, to run a mile? How could they say that? But they did. One of them even dredged up the remark years later when we passed in the high school hall, or maybe on the street in town. I had apparently made quite an impression, and an unfavorable one at that.
I have never stopped trying to be perfect.
But, now, I am trying to stop trying.
I'd rather be whole, relaxed, real.
I've started reading Brené Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection. From the first pages of the introduction, I have seen myself. And when Brené talks about being shocked and somewhat terrified by the revelation that everything she'd ever done to try to keep herself safe and good, was really keeping her from living a Wholehearted life (her term), I nodded until my head ached. Because, what will it mean to give up trying to be Good, and accept myself as worthy and good enough? Isn't that quitting?
Guess I'll find out, huh? I'm ready to let poor Mrs. Perfect retire to Cabo, to sip pink drinks in the sun, and to get on with living my actual life. It's one of the scariest prospects I've ever faced. I have the comfort, though, of knowing that there are good, kind, fantastically effective people who have let go of that dream of perfection and embraced who they already are.
Bon voyage, Mrs. Perfect. I hope, when next you see those girls (Jenny? Mary Jo? Kristi? I can't remember), you offer them a pink drink and splash them a little with sparkling sea water. Just a little.
Sara is a storyteller, writer, artist, teacher, wife, mother, and singer living in Minnesota. I write about storytelling, and about living a life with stories.