Socially Awkward Self: reflections on shame, comparison, and “perfection”

in the foreground, a red disk hummingbird feeder with a roundish hummingbird perched on the edge. Vines are directly behind the feeder and green leaves cover the background.

I had an interview with Brittani from Zarlequan the day after American Thanksgiving. It was a delight getting to know her. We had a great conversation beforehand—then the recording started. Unfortunately for me, it was my socially awkward self that barged its way in, taking over. I’m usually gregarious and enthusiastic, and depending on who you ask, occasionally unhinged. But that day, I was so stiff and awkward. It was the weirdest thing. I could feel the self-censoring wash over me, which made my responses feel very stilted and awkward.

Then I just lost myself. It was an out of body experience and not the good kind.

I did not feel like I was in flow and that’s something I strive for. Not only did the self-censoring get in the way, there was the “do it right” monster who lurked. The minute I do that to myself is the beginning of the end.

Here’s the thing: I’m still working out the sharing and over sharing stories that has plagued me my entire life. There’s a balance and I haven’t been striking it of late. (I don’t share enough in the writing but too much in speaking; however, this time was the inverse.) My balance is thrown off even more because I’ve been doing a lot of growing and am in an awkward phase.

Part of that growth is peeling away the old stories that aren’t mine from the person I’m becoming. This may sound strange coming from a woman who is in the 5th decade of her life. You’d think I’d “have it together by now.”

Well, no. And therein lies the rub.

The perception of “having it together” is much like raising children, especially during their infant years. Beginning authors/entrepreneurs/anything go through something similar. As a parent, you have these moments where you finally feel like you have a handle on your baby’s needs. Yes! I’ve cracked the code. You feel accomplished and good about your skills, having established a calming and satisfying routine that meets your baby’s needs. It’s fleeting during the infant years, because as soon as you feel like you’ve “got it,” the baby has a growth spurt or moves to his/her next developmental phase. You find yourself back at a fresh starting point. Your process is ever-changing, growing, and developing, much like your baby. It can also be destabilizing, frustrating, as well as joyful.

Both/and.

The feeling of having it together is often fleeting which I need to be okay with, because sometimes “having it together” equates no change. It’s complacency, and if it stays longer than a pot of tea, in a manner of speaking, can be a death knell.

This is actually a cup of coffee and that never goes stale or stagnant around these parts.

We’re supposed to grow and develop, otherwise we become stagnant. Stagnant is stinky and gross. The evolving phase just feels gross and super uncomfortable (hopefully, it’s not stinky), but it’s a necessary “evil.” And it’s not really evil, it’s a thing we have to go through to get somewhere different and, hopefully, better. In this world of assumed “perfection,” despite knowing perfection does not exist, we continue to keep some version of that fantasy alive.

You’re probably vigorously shaking your head at me and I’d most likely do the same in a different situation (not the one that sparked this blog).

No, no. Perfection does not exist! I (places hand on chest with indignation) don’t strive for perfection.

Think about it, when we shame ourselves for these awkward growing moments and top it off with the pressures of comparison we’re doing just that. It’s a sort of back door to perfection or attempts at a shade of perfection. I am not perfect, I just fell “short.” There’s an implication that the amorphous “others” are somehow perfect and you are not.

Instead of saying things such as, I’m learning; I had an off day; I’m growing and I’m unsure what to do with myself, etc; we shame, compare, and/or find fault.

Logically? You know better. Most likely, you also know these tactics are a recipe for disaster.

Emotionally? You might be sent on a trip down memory lane or thrown into a tailspin. If you’re like me, both. Especially if you were fed a steady diet of comparison (often resulting in falling short). I think many people have inadvertently had this done to them and, in turn, do it to themselves because comparison is one of the ways we attempt to understand our world. The problems start when comparison is used to purposefully demean or to chide yourself or your kids/coworkers/etc. into doing or being “better” because they fall short of some arbitrary standard. Again, there are times and places where comparison serves and might be needed, but I’m speaking in the punitive sense–we don’t need more punishment and shame.

No one does.

So after that interview, what did I do? I turned to punishment and shame. I felt really bad. I had a lot of things on the tip of my tongue that I was going to say and then I chose something else. I chose “poorly.” What I really did was self-censure. That’s when things went sideways for me and it’s a lesson learned. A hard lesson. So, I decided to take control of that narrative and write a series of blogs to get out what I didn’t say in that interview. Or at least add some things that I could’ve elaborated on.

That socially awkward self probably will never totally go away. She’s one self that I’ve been able to keep mostly at bay. When I decided to really push myself, change old patterns, and grow, is when she came rushing out in full force. While I wish I could’ve delivered a better interview for lovely Brittani (and myself, honestly), this has been an opportunity to notice what’s going on and make some different choices.

I had an off day. I got myself off track. I didn’t say the things I wanted to say. After my tailspin, I made some decisions. I won’t rush to comparison, not even comparison to older, more polished versions of myself, nor will I strive for that false sense of perfection–fool’s choice because no one will ever get “there.” However, I can put down the cudgel and stop the shame parade because those tactics never got me very far. In fact, they’ve been holding me back for a long time. Every moment is an opportunity for learning and growth as well as choice, it’s just that some days and events go better than others and there will always be one or two of “those days” that require me giving myself some grace. I’ll have to lather, rinse, and repeat these steps as if my life depended on it because if I don’t, I’ll remain stagnant.

Who wants that? I don’t want to be stagnant-stinky. And if I fall off the horse and shame myself? Well, pardner, I get up, dust off, and ride that horse again.

Happy trails, my Fabulous Fools.

Give me a shoutout! 🤠

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