Perfectionists Unite! (Prepare To Suck)

Author Kelly Byrne rides a mini bike
Photo: Mike Franklin

Have you ever loved something so fiercely that if anyone were to take it away from you, you’d actually entertain the thought of getting murdery on them?

What if this thing you ate, slept, and breathed for years of your life was slowly stripped from you, not by someone else, but some dark, insidious force you were somehow not strong enough to withstand?

Let’s Talk About Fear

Last year I wrote a post about how I fell in lust with riding motorcycles eight years ago and dove in head-first with the enthusiasm of a two-year-old hopped up on a box of Pixy Stix.

And how, eventually, that love had all but disappeared; fizzled and seeped out my broken seams leaving me tattered, flat, and depressed.

Why?

Because fear.

Or so I thought, until I wrote this post. Let me ‘splain.

Three years ago, on an easy warm-up lap before a race at Grange Motor Circuit, an expert rider made a bad pass, a bonehead maneuver, and ran into my front tire with his rear tire. My crash was instant, violent, and scrambled my brain like a paint mixer.

In the previous year, I’d had many other on-track crashes leading up to this one, but that was the straw that broke me. Fear left me stuck in the pit with a nasty concussion, gnarly contusions, and an empty box of Pixy Stix.

That magical feeling of freedom, of speed, of control that I’d experienced and honed for years on my motorcycles had simply packed up and U-Hauled-ass out of town.

At the time I just thought fear had won, it had taken over and made nothing on the bikes, big or small, fun anymore. So I stopped, because when you ride motorcycles as much as and in the manner I did with my friends, you need to be having fun or it’s just not worth the risk.

Here’s The Part I Didn’t Understand Till Now

In those last few months before I stopped riding altogether, not only had fear reared its ugly head, but my pride had taken a severe bashing with all the crashing I was doing. Each time I went down (which was basically every time I went out to the track) it rattled my confidence and made me feel like I didn’t know what the hell I was doing anymore.

I pushed too hard trying to improve because it seemed like all of my friends were getting better and faster and I was just standing still. All that pushing inevitably resulted in more crashing, ripping open more seams to drain the love out and invite frustration in.

I’m all for self-improvement, but when your competitive side takes your joy by the throat and chokes it till all you’re left with is fear, you may have a problem.

Riding went from love to work in the five years I’d spent constantly on the bike developing my skills. I reached a tipping point where the return on my investment was not worth my investment anymore.

Stuck in the mediocrity of my own skills, no matter how hard I tried, I was not improving and I couldn’t work past that hump.

And that, my friends, was the real problem.

The fear was my excuse not to do it anymore. Click To Tweet

But the root problem was my ego.

Why?

Because perfectionism.

Perfectionism – 1 / Joy – 0

For the last three years I’ve been trying to find my way in the dark back to that place of excitement and wonder, the thrill I first felt when I threw a leg over, heading out to another session at the track or out on another adventure through the twisties with my friends.

And it’s Just. Not. Happening.

So maybe the truth is – and this is hard to say out loud – that I simply don’t want to do it anymore because I can’t be the best.

Now, this may not seem like a big deal to you, but for those five years (and even the three subsequent ones) my life, my identity was entwined in the riding culture. I was a rider, a biker chick, a racer. I was proud of that. I loved the friends I’d made. I’d finally found a place I truly fit in for the first time in my life. I was happy.

Riding was a way in which I was able to define myself definitively. It was also a fabulous topic of conversation at parties and whatnot: “Wow, you ride motorcycles? Cool! Whoa, you race too? Badass!”

Like that.

I won’t go in-depth about the deeply wrong-headed notion that plagues most, if not all, perfectionists that our worth as human beings is directly linked to our deeds and how well we perform them. I’ll acknowledge that elephant and save it for another post.

Point is, I wanted to be the Queen of Badassery. The fastest girl around. The first girl to get her knee down in the canyon. I was proud of being that Kelly. But…

My perfectionism kept blocking my path to joy. And it destroyed my love. Click To Tweet

Does this resonate with you at all?

Let Go Let Flow

So, what comes next?

Well, a few weeks ago, I asked myself – ‘do you really want to do this? – because it’s an important question to ask and I needed to test my theory. I’m pretty sure I heard a distant ‘yes’ somewhere inside me, like the Tin Man talking to Dorothy before he got all oiled up.

So we ventured out to Apple Valley and I rode at UMRA’s Open House with no expectations of not sucking. It was my first time back on that track since my concussion three years ago, so psychologically speaking, it was climbing Mt. McKinley.

I won’t lie, my initial session out felt like I was riding on square tires, backwards, and blindfolded. But as the day wore on, I loosened up a little and the mechanics of riding came back to me. It was just like, well…you know.

Did the heavens open up with glorious angel-song and guide me to a great epiphany? Did I smell that sweet scent of adventure (AKA race gas) and feel the love rushing and gushing back in? Did I load up on Pixy Stix?

Nope.

I faced my fears, but more importantly, my ego head on that day, and I’m proud of myself for that. If you get nothing else out of this post, I hope that makes sense to you.

Facing your fears is great, but knowing where they’re springing up from is even more important because the fear may only be the symptom of the root cause.

And that root cause, for me, is generally my psychotic need to be perfect and the best at everything I do. When I realize I’m not and I never will be, I tend to fall apart like somebody made a bad pull on one of my Jenga pieces – all tumbling down.

I’m sharing this with you so I can understand it better myself and if you see even a little bit of yourself in this post, you can too.

Maybe we’ll actually do something about it, like loosen the hell up on ourselves, right? Seriously.

No seriously. Let’s all make a pact, right here, right now, to suck. Just suck out loud. And be cool with it.

Because until we get past that wiggy-woggy feeling in our guts that tells us to step away because we’re not living up to our absurdly impossible standards, we’re going to keep beating ourselves up for not making the cut.

What’s worse? We’re going to stop doing the things we love because we’re so damn afraid of being bad it will paralyze, immobilize, petrify us.

This, I’m sad to say, is where I live much of the time with my writing. I’m doing my level best to work through it on a daily, hourly basis.

It’s time to break the cycle. One step, one lap, one word at a time. Break it with me.

In case you’re wondering, I did have fun on the bike that day. When I was enjoying it the most, I felt a subtle twinge of infatuation deep in my gut, which makes me think it ain’t over for me with this bike thing. This go round I’m going to ease into it with no expectations and enjoy it for what it is, instead of what it does or doesn’t make me.

Who knows, I could pass ‘Go’ and head straight to joy all over again. And maybe you will too. I have great hope for both of us. But you’ve got to take that first step.

Here’s some video proof of my fun and my tutu.

Is perfectionism something you struggle with? Does it choke the joy out of anything for you? Has it created debilitating fear in your life? Let’s talk about that in the comments.

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As always, thanks for sticking with me.

Author Kelly Byrne Website

 

 

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Kelly Byrne
An award-winning writer in many a genre, I currently herd words into novels and short stories about wildly flawed, but lovable characters. I strive to uncover the extraordinary in the ordinary, for those who believe in the possibility of the impossible, and those who always believe in love. My fiction embraces the idea that extraordinary things can and do happen in the real world. These whisperings of supernatural elements give my work a strong emotional edge, lending surprise and wonder to every story. I live in Los Angeles with my desperately handsome boyfriend where I’m working on my next novel.

10 Comments

  1. Kelly, what a great post! I am happy to hear that you got back on your bike!!
    Yes, fear, perfectionism, and ego….not a great recipe to create more joy in our lives. GOD…I do know this, especially around my writing. Each and every time I send a blog post out, my heart races and I say to myself, “Why did I send that out….it SUCKS!” I’m aware of the voice, but it’s there, always there, even when I tell it to shut up. I always appreciate your level of honesty and willingness to be vulnerable so we can learn and reflect and grow. Thank you for writing, thank you for posting, and thank you for being so authentically you. Love you! Oh…and I enjoyed watching you on your bike with a smile on your face. xoxox

    1. Thank you so much, Susan. I so wish we didn’t have those voices, you know? But it seems to be the curse of the creative mind. I think the best way to ‘win’ is to just keep doing it. I’m so glad you’re able to send your writing out into the world because it’s brilliant. In fact, I’m on my way right now to read your latest. Thanks for hanging in there with me till the end to watch the video. It was a long post and I appreciate it. 🙂 Big hugs.

  2. So, so good, on so many levels!! The fact that you thought enough to ask yourself why you were scared says that you’re an awfully enlightened, tutu-wearing biker chick. Someone told me once to keep asking yourself why over and over again, and you’ll eventually get to the heart of the matter, regardless of how shriveled and black that little sucker might be. Sounds like you got there with just one or two “whys.” Amazing!

    It’s funny/interesting to me that you’d be concerned about what your ego thinks about you not being perfect at riding while I’m bowing down at your courage to even do it in the first place, perfect or not. And I’m clearly not alone. Let your ego revel in that for a moment…

    I see my girl in you…she hates doing anything if she can’t be perfect at it, even right out of the gate. She came out of her first dance class in 3rd grade bawling her eyes out saying she didn’t want to go back because she didn’t know what she was doing. I said that’s what lessons are for–learning! That she’s not meant to know how to do it right away. She’s eased up a bit, due in part to the fact that we tell her perfection is a lie and doesn’t exist—it’s like trying to get to the north pole to sit on Santa’s lap…it ain’t gonna happen.

    1. Oh great. Now you’re telling me Santa doesn’t exist? Jeesh.

      Thanks, Kel. For your support, your sweet words, and thinking me courageous. It’s funny, I don’t feel that way most of the time. Even when I was riding regularly, it was just such a passion of mine it didn’t feel like anything extraordinary. But it really is. Anyone who puts a leg over a motorcycle is brave because the potential for disaster is far greater for them simply because of the lack of doors. Thank you for reminding me of that. 😉

      Poor girl. She’s just like me. I’ve always been so frustrated with things I couldn’t be perfect at right away. If I had to take time to learn it to get good, I didn’t want to do it. If I wasn’t automatically brilliant, ie. a savant somehow, I’d walk away.

      This is not a good habit to get into. If I have regrets it’s that I didn’t choose to work harder to become good at something I enjoyed. Only in the last ten years or so have I come to accept that if you want to be good at something you’re not instantly brilliant at, you have to put the time in. 10,000 hours.

      It’s great that you’re keeping it real with her. Perfection is such a lie. It’s fine to want to be the best you can be, and excel, but to strive for perfection is to court madness. xoxo

  3. “I’m pretty sure I heard a distant ‘yes’ somewhere inside me, like the Tin Man talking to Dorothy before he got all oiled up” … “Facing your fears is great, but knowing where they’re springing up from is even more important because the fear may only be the symptom of the root cause” … “It’s time to break the cycle. One step, one lap, one word at a time. Break it with me.”

    I could go on and on quoting you to yourself.

    But you don’t NEED me to tell you (though you may WANT me to,) cause giving in to your desire for perfectionism is probably not the most loving thing I could do. But, sue me, I
    just can’t help saying: Those sentences I copied and pasted, the whole damn thing really, is just so PERFECT. You have a voice and, even better, so much to say.

    It goes without saying, because we are twin sisters from different mothers, that Perfectionism is the set of handcuffs that keep me, like Sybil, changed to the radiator of regret.
    No glibness intended. Like that poor girl, I often feel I’ve invented a Red-Rover line of Alternate Identities to defend against the onslaught of judgment I feel barreling toward me. A different personality for any and every person I meet along the way. Chameleon-like, I will never disappoint. Like Green? I can be Green. Love Blue? I’m the Bluest. Want Yellow? I’ve got bananas, lemons, caution lights and suns galore. But here’s the kicker – and she was not wrong about this – my mother, bless her counter-productive heart, used to say when I feared all eyes were trained on me, “No one is looking at you. No one cares the least little bit what you’re wearing or what you are doing.” And she was right. Most people have their eyes focused inward. No one cares what we’re doing. They care what THEY’RE doing– much, much more.

    So, I can dance like no one is watching, write like no one is reading, cook like no one is eating– No, that last one doesn’t really work. But it IS true that when I let go of my fear of being judged, I let go of perfectionism. Detaching from the certainty that people, including myself, hold all kinds of awful opinions of me, and that those particular people hold the keys to all life’s treasure chests, especially those with my name on them, allows me to JUST DO. And JUST DOING IT, as we know, is the key to getting over Perfectionism.

    Knowing there are insanely talented, capable, deep, magical, wonderful woman like yourself, Kelly, who have also elected themselves judge and jury of their self-worth, actually helps. If I can talk you into believing how great you are – and how much it doesn’t matter when you’re not achieving greatness – maybe you can do the same for me. On second thought, I’ll just write like no one is eating and dance like no one is reading. Cause, after all, just doing it is the cure. oxoxo

    1. And, by the way, when I said “insanely” talented, I just meant like really, really, really talented. 😉

    2. Yes, yes, and yes! Damn it, Davis, when is that site of yours going to be ready? When is the blog up? I really really really want you to be writing, because you can whip off something like this response in five minutes where it would take me a couple days to hone it and work it over and play with it and make sure it all sounds just right. YOU have a voice and so many wonderful things to say and I really want the world to start listening.

      Because, I’m sorry, I’m going to have to disagree with counter-productive Mama for a minute, the world WILL pay attention to you when you write. They may not care what the hell you’re wearing or how many bananas and lemons you have (the Minions might) but they will stand up and listen, they will come to attention when you start talking. When you put your words out there, you will garner their attention. And yeah, sometimes it won’t be the kind of attention we want, because we’re artists and that’s life. But you are so effing brilliant and full of words and stories and deep thoughts and all the stuff of true artists that I want for you to share your light with the rest of the world.

      All right – down from my soap box. Love you, my friend. No go write. 😉 xoxo

  4. –hand in the air — I too am apart of the perfectionism club. I asked the universe what is this I’m feeling and sure enough I got an answer. Because I was ready to hear it I listened and fell over. Now, I’m moving into accepting that I do this and to unraveling it all and the causes that brought me here to this point. I can relate on all levels with this story.
    Where as yours was riding a motorcycle mine was love…how to recognize it, how to accept it, and how to give love. I had to get my ego out of the way big time and accept everything about myself. Every nasty detail every nice thing to see myself as I stand today not yesterday but today. Many tears have fallen from my eyes down my face but it also has healed me and filled in those holes I poked out.
    I have learned that being active in your life not passive is the only to be. Anger can be helpful if done in the right way. Forgiving myself and moving forward is the very best thing for me. Setting new boundaries to those who are around me. I have been on a beautiful yet rough road to healing myself that on those day when things are going great I smile a genuine smile that comes from my soul. My authentic self.

  5. Wow, Teresa, what amazing growth and healing. That’s wonderful. It seems to me like you’ve got your issues well under control. Knowing is half the battle, but it’s the next part, practicing the things that will make us better, more whole, less judgmental around ourselves that’s the toughest part. Good onya for being present enough to do the work and start conquering those demons. We’re all a work in progress. Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us here. 🙂

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