There’s a scene in the movie Hook where the Lost Boys have captured a grown up Peter Pan, though they don’t know it’s him. Pockets, one of the smallest boys, gingerly approaches Peter who has been kicked around and beaten. He slowly removes Peter’s glasses and looks at his face very, very carefully. Pockets touches, pokes, and stretches Peter’s skin, studying this weathered, middle-aged man kneeling before him. With his small hands holding Peter’s face, Pockets’ own face slowly lights up and he exclaims, “Oh there you are, Peter!”
I’ve been there. That moment when someone recognized who I was. The Laura beneath the pretending and striving and holding on to someone I wasn’t. “Oh there you are, Laura! I’m so glad you’re here.”
I’m pretty sure we all go through those periods where we want to fit in. Where we think we must squeeze into a certain mold in order to be liked and included. (No? Just me? Ah well, okay. Anyhoo…) This was me much of my adult life. Something in me felt less than, not quite there yet, not quite enough, or worse, too much. I unconsciously fell into the thinking that if people really knew me, they’d run for the hills. If people knew what I really thought or felt or if they saw the scars from old wounds, they’d hightail it out of my life quicker than you can say, “Isn’t there a 12-step program for this?”
So I pretended. I got really good at it too.
There was that time I decided to be Perfect. Seriously. I decided I would be Perfect, and all would be right in the world and God would love me just a skosh more and people would see me walk by and they’d sigh and say, “Gosh, I wish I could be Perfect like her.”
Here’s how it went: I only drove 55mph on the freeway. I only listened to Contemporary Christian Music (because, you know, “garbage in, garbage out”). I never left the house without a full face of makeup and lipstick. My clothes were smart and put together and appropriate and mommy-chic. I never said bad words. Not even words that were substitutes for bad words. In fact, I had no need to because I never got angry or frustrated. Don’t you see, I was Perfect.
F’real. I did that. Being Perfect lasted about three days.
Okay, so even though I couldn’t be Perfect, I played the part of the good Christian mom and wife. I tried hard to cook really healthy meals with the requisite ratio of protein to vegetables. I volunteered in the classroom and in Sunday School. I tried to throw fantastic birthday parties for my girls (pre-Pinterest, I wished for Martha Stewart to make her face shine on me.)
Now, I’ve come to the understanding and acceptance that I’m good at maybe three things. And all that cooking and crafting and patience-having-with-six-year-olds ain’t them.
Over the years, all the striving for perfection didn’t make me more likeable. It just made me exhausted — and probably pretty boring. So I quit. A good friend of mine suggests we quit something every Thursday. One Thursday, I quit trying to get people to like me.
As I began to peel off the facade, it didn’t sit well with some people. Things shifted. I no longer played the unspoken yet agreed upon role in our relationship. It was uncomfortable at best and gutting at worst. But I knew, I just knew, I could no longer pretend to be someone I wasn’t. I began to realize that putting on a smile and faking it was at the expense of who God created me to be. When I tried so hard to fit in, it left me truly lonely and feeling like a failure. But when I set all that down and allowed myself to be honest, that’s when I felt I belonged.
When I let my guard down, those close to me finally saw me. Me and all my ugly stuff. The hidden, shameful, messy stuff. The stuff that make all of us real. Those friendships became deeper and more honest and more full of life than when I allowed no one to truly know me. Oh, there you are, Laura!
So I stand before you now, a recovering perfectionist. I’m a bit of a mess, really. But I’m a contented mess. I’m a more-comfortable-in-my-own-skin mess. I’m no gourmet, but my children have not starved. The snacks I bring for their sports teams are beautifully wrapped by Grandma Kirkland. We may be a little behind on the whole college prep thing. But as I’ve stopped playing the part of Perfect, I think my girls are learning to be themselves, trust their gut, and not pretend to be someone they aren’t. We’re all figuring it out together.
Oh and guess what? There are days I even go outside without makeup. (Okay, a little mascara never hurt anyone. Baby steps.)