I Choose Progress, Not Perfectionism

18 April, 2018

How do you meet new challenges?  When does your Perfectionist Monstor raise it's ugly head and stop you from building resilience?  Learn about my recent experience with acting and how it helped me develop more of a Growth Mindset.

Recently, I decided to indulge a new hobby.  Acting.  Now let me be clear that although I believe I have something to offer on stage, it's not exactly like I have an amazing talent.  Believe it or not I was horribly shy as a child and anything that required me on stage was just awful.  I would be so nervous and brood over any tiny mistakes I had made for weeks on end.  I still remember very clearly that incredibly lonely feeling of believing I had done something terribly wrong, yet not having anyone to really talk to about it.  Subsequently, I only ever got the smallest of small parts in school plays and once I was in secondary school I never put my hand up for anything. 

As a much older adult, I did a community education class in Improvisational Theatre.  I actually really enjoyed it and joined a Wellington group, who I stayed with and performed with for three years.  Even though I enjoyed this, I was never particularly good at it, and the feedback I used to get from the directors was always disappointing.  So, when I moved away I forgot all about it and didn’t give it another chance until a friend of mine was looking for actors for a one-night only performance last December.  It was a chance for them to direct a play for the first time, and we were allowed to have our scripts on stage, having only had two weeks’ rehearsals.  I thought - that can’t be so bad!  So I did it, and it went well.

Then I auditioned for this play in January.  I changed my mind five minutes before the audition about the character I was going for, and I came out so mortified about how it had gone I was thinking about getting the director’s phone number and apologising for my terrible performance!  However, somehow I got the part, and then the gruelling schedule of months of rehearsals started.  We are currently in the second and final week of the show and it has been so well received - it’s quite an amazing exerience!

However, I am not here to talk explicitly about the play.  What I want to share with you is how I got through the initial stages of rehearsal, when I felt just like giving up, every time.  After the first one, I came home and cried on my husband’s shoulder, and told him I thought I had made a terrible mistake, and that I just didn’t think I was cut out for it.  I bounced back from this, and many other challenges along the way, and it really taught me something important.

Let me just pre-frame this by saying that, as some of you know, like a lot of other women I have been a severe perfectionist.   I now call myself a ‘recovering perfectionist’ - the journey is still not over, and perhaps it never will be.  But I keep healing and evolving and enjoying the benefits of that.

So, the way this particular director works is to divide the play up into sections.  You are expected to learn your lines for that section before you rehearse it with the other actors - no scripts allowed on stage, ever.  You go in, and she tells you what your moves are going to be, i.e.:  “On ‘what chaos..’ Catherine gets up and marches across to stage right…” and so on.  Depending on the scene there could be numerous moves and actions like this to remember.   You are told them, you write them on your script and then you get up there and have to remember your lines, your moves and then you have to work on your acting and character.  That is a lot of variables in one sitting! 

The first time I had to do this I couldn’t remember my lines or my moves - I kind of fudged the whole thing.  And in those early days, the first times we were all doing this together, it wasn’t an environment of shrugging off mistakes and laughing.  No. T his didn't develop until much later.  It felt stiff and there was a horrible stilted atmosphere when a ‘mistake’ was made.  This was the night I came home and cried.  It was like if I couldn't get it perfect the first time I did it, it was going to cause me a lot of pain and shame.

Of course I was due to go back again in just a few days and repeat the whole thing.  It was a Sunday, and I went out for a late lunch with my husband and daughter beforehand.  I felt a tremendous amount of dread.  I couldn’t bear the thought of making those mistakes again, and more than that was the feeling of the stilted atmosphere when that happened.  To be honest, it’s a nightmare for a ‘recovering perfectionist’ like me with high standards, and who is used to a certain level of competence.  There were tears over lunch.  I thought: what can I do to make a difference to myself here?  There must be a way through this!

So, I revisited the Carol Dweck stuff on Growth Mindset.  In fact, I went on to Facebook and found some Growth Mindset stuff for - wait for it - kids.  There are some great resources out there!   I found a list of affirmation-type statements that we can use with our kids to help them move away from Fixed Mindsets and into Growth Mindsets.  I don’t know why I gravitated toward kid stuff, perhaps because I was being triggered back into the feelings of that shy and ashamed little girl and I instinctively went there.  Anyway, reading through this and applying it completely changed my state of mind in that moment.  What resonated with me most of all, were these two:

I choose progress, not perfection
I can do hard things

I got though that Sunday rehearsal and it went really well.  This was the beginning of hope and a belief that I could actually do this.

The first time we did a full dress rehearsal for Act One, I made several mistakes and was literally in tears off stage in-between my scenes, having to choke the tears back in time for my next entrance.  It proved to me how utterly exposing this all was - how much pressure there is to ‘do well’ to be competent, and how much that hurts when we feel like we haven’t.  The cool thing is was not that I experienced this, but that once again I bounced back, and carried on, stronger than before.  This is the very definition of resilience.  Each time I had to move through something that caused me discomfort or shame, I was able to emerge on the other side stronger and more able to meet the next challenge.  Along with the Growth Mindset affirmations there was an underlying belief, and that was that I was doing my absolute best in that moment.  I really was, and I knew that deep down.  And that at the end of the day, I still love and believed in myself.  I was still happy with who I was as a person when I went to bed at night.  Put in another way, I supported myself through it using my Inner Coach, and didn’t turn on myself with the old Inner Critic that used to be there.  This confirmed to me, once again, how powerful a tool the Inner Coach is.

What could you apply a Growth Mindset to in your life at the moment?  I encourage you to try, and enjoy the results of resilience building.

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.  Leave a comment and let’s chat! 
Love Charlotte.

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