The Curse of "Go Big or Go Home"

I saw this bumper sticker the other day and it conjured up many bad memories. I used to live my life by this mantra. No, I mean LIVE MY LIFE. If it wasn't going to be done 150,000,000 percent, then don't do it at all. Isn't that what it means to "Go Big or Go Home"? If you read my blog you know I sometimes write about a nasty thing called Perfectionism. I've struggled with this for years. It's ugly, I hate it, but I've actually come a long way. Perfectionism is black and white. In someone's life who deals with this, everything is or isn't. There's no "in-between". No gray area.

I started playing tennis when I was 3 years old. I practically grew up on the tennis courts. My parents were avid players. I took lessons for years and years and if my parents weren't paying for lessons, my dad was my coach. My freshman year in high school I got up enough courage to try out for the tennis team. The first day of try-outs I sized up the other girls there. Some of them were better than me, but not all. It didn't even occur to me that these girls would be my teammates, not my competition. The anxiety that overtook me was much too overwhelming. I felt sick thinking that I might lose. In front of others. In front of my parents.  So, guess what I did? I went home. The following year I tried out for something much less stressful in my book: Cheerleading. I don't regret being on the cheerleading team, however, I very much regret letting my own perfectionism, my own fear of failure limit me in something that was so important to me. I loved tennis. I was a really good player. But, if I couldn't be the absolute best, if I couldn't "go big", (and in my mind that meant never losing) I would rather go home.

This thought process continued and bled over into other parts of my life. I compared myself constantly to everyone else. I wasn't as thin as this person, my boobs weren't as big as that persons, my grades weren't as good as hers. Compliments fell on deaf ears.

When someone concentrates so hard on looking good, at being the absolute best at any cost, are they really living their life authentically? Are they even living their own life? I didn't even know what "living authentically" meant until I became somewhat comfortable living in the grey.  Years of "go big or go home" had worn on me, and I had no idea who I was, what I wanted, and who I wanted to become. Was it easy to let it all go? Shit, NO! It's still not sometimes. I still have moments of "Oh no, I'm going to look like a complete asshole if I do this or say that". It's slowly becoming easier to be okay with the fact that some people might think I'm an asshole. And on a good day I might even take that as a compliment.

After reading Courtney Martin's "Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters", it was reiterated to me that so many women, especially in my generation suffer from perfectionistic behaviors. The line gets blurry from the ambitious, go-getter, fierce female, to the woman practically killing herself to be perfect in every way. For me, I let my mean and vicious saboteur voice run my life for a lot of years. And she's a real bitch to me, let me tell ya! But, I truly believe that living a life this way, can be crippling.

So, think about times when you might have had this type of thinking. Perhaps you made assumptions ahead of time about something or someone. Or maybe you avoided something because in your mind if you couldn't do it perfectly, it wasn't worth doing. Just notice it.


Pam C. said...

I love this post Andrea! I don't think the struggle with perfectionism ever truly ends. I still want to be a perfect parent, a perfect wife, a perfect birth activist, a perfect example of how people *should* be. I recognize the irrationality in that and I know no one is perfect, but it doesn't stop me from wanting to be.

One of the hardest things in my life right now is seeing signs of perfectionism in my kids. I try VERY hard to let them know it's okay to fail, and that no one can learn or grow without failing sometimes.

Still- a perfect example of failing in that: My oldest is a terrible speller. We worked super hard on his spelling words one week and he got a 90% on his test after averaging 20-30% in the previous weeks. The *very first thing* I said to him? "Wow! Which word did you miss?" Immediately I recognized my mistake, but I know there are myriad other little things I say and do that subtly pass on the message that anything less than perfect isn't good enough.

Here's to learning to leave the perfectionist behind!

Anonymous said...

Perfectionist right here! And according to the infamous Steve Urkle, I have FOF. (Fear of Failure). I think mine developed from a nasty divorce between my parents, and in my mind, I had to be the best child I could be or my father would gain custody...even though I realize now, by law, that wouldn't have happened anyways. Regardless, that lifestyle stuck with me, in a lot of different aspects.

I think a large part of me wants to get passed these issues now, (even though I'm still a very young bird,) and I get impatient when I can't learn the lesson right away. I guess that's part of what I need to learn - I can't learn on my terms, I just have to let them happen. (The gray area).

Andrea said...

@Pam- You may want to check this book out from the library:
I have a copy and I think it's great. This generation growing up has it even harder than we did.

@Lindsey-Couldn't have said it better myself. We get so caught up in wanting the end result, the prize, we forget to live and look around while it's all happening.

Shaping Youth said...

I love this post Andrea, and am more than a wee bit excited to meet you this wkend in LA, as there appears to be quite a bit of cross-pollination here, since I'm a die-hard recovering "Curse of the Good Girl" type (per Rachel Simmons) or as Liz Funk would say, "SuperGirls Speak Out" ---Here are my two fess up posts w/interviews of the authors in case YOUR readership finds them useful. I highly recommend both for those of us in pushback mode to the 'go big or go home' mindset in dire need of an overhaul ;-)

Here ya go: Rachel's:

And Liz':

Overachievers...onward! (in fact, my favorite line as of late is, "you don't have to be the perfect mom, you can be the just good enough mom, and the kids might even learn more independently..."

Andrea said...

@Amy (aka Shaping Youth) thanks so much for visiting and leaving a comment! You, Rachel Simmons, Jess Weiner, you're all my heros, I admire you more than any celebrity out there! Can't wait to meet you too :)

Stassja said...

Great post! I can relate in so many ways. It is something I still struggle with, but I'm alot easier on myself than I used to be. However, I still have to push before trying something new because I feel like even simple tasks are insurmountably difficult and I don't want to be bad at it. I've started to enjoy sewing, but I still have to fight past that urge to give up when the going gets tough and my stitches just aren't getting straighter and so on.

I have to remind myself with things like this that everyone starts somewhere, and there's no way to get better without just doing it shitty for a while. (And at least with sewing, if I mess it up, you can always pull out stitches and start over. That helps. And I've almost never done it except for extreme cases of badness lol)

Claire Mysko said...

Yep, count me as another recovering "perfect girl." What scares me is that not only are so many women of our generation held back by perfectionism, younger girls are being paralyzed by it too.

My book You're Amazing! is for middle school girls and by that age, girls are already feeling tremendous pressure to get straight A's, have the "right" look, and please everyone else. That is a huge motivating factor for me, both as an advocate for youth and as a new mom to a daughter. We've got to learn how to embrace our own imperfections so our children can grow to embrace theirs.

Andrea said...

Claire- Yes, you're book is GREAT! I recommend it all the time for girls in that age group!