Off Beat and Off Key: Not Perfect and Liking It

“Sometiiimes I feel I’ve got to” *boop boop* “Run away I’ve got to” *boop boop* “Get away…” It was Saturday night and there I was with a friend belting out Soft Cell’s Tainted Love in front of a packed room of karaoke lovers. And you know, I don’t suck as badly as those foolishly brave ladies who attempt Céline Dion or Whitney Huston ballads, but by no means am I an undiscovered gem. Unless I get really good at playing the accordion and go on to release a top-selling polka album (a girl has to have a dream), there’s no record contract in my future.

Zooey Deschanel

All the photos of me singing karaoke are strangely blurry. Here’s Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer instead

The miracle, though, is that I did it with only 2 vodka sodas to loosen up the vocal chords and without lengthy deliberations about what I would sing. Just a few years ago, things were very different for me; my “issues” would have prevented me from getting up altogether… and not just for fear of singing a wrong note, nooo. My fear was actually of not being the best singer in the entire Chinese restaurant! It pains me to admit this, but the extent of my perfectionist tendencies really did go that far. I considered it a breakthrough when, 3 or so years ago, I got up to sing for the first time. I was insanely nervous despite the liquid courage I had imbibed and the fact that I knew the song extremely well (Marilyn Monroe’s Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend).

It’s not that karaoke is essential to having a fulfilled life, it’s that missing out on the fun is, well, no fun. Plus, there is an inexplicable campy magic that happens when a room full of people belts out Total Eclipse of the Heart together at top volume. Perfectionism is a paralysing affliction, one that prevents full Bonnie Tyler participatory enjoyment! Seriously though, here’s a little story about the baby steps I’ve taken to overcome the worst of my paralysis.

It started with a question: “Who made you feel that who you are is not good enough?” My therapist was pretty useless overall, but I’ll always be grateful to her for asking me that question. It wasn’t a simple one, and there was no quick or straight-forward answer. But it got me thinking.


I’m sorry I can’t be perfect

That’s when I noticed the first change in my behaviour: asking questions. Believe it or not, I used to think that asking questions would be taken as proof that I didn’t know everything I was supposed to know. I was sure people would judge me and think I was terribly stupid. The anxiety I put myself through in my jobs and in school trying to muddle through, absolutely terrified of asking for help, is mind-boggling! But then I noticed how, when I asked questions, it was easier to perform my tasks and a lot less stressful, too. And people were not only happy to help, they were also glad that someone cared enough to ask questions in order to learn and get things done right. It was a revelation!  [As I read this, I still can’t believe how long I tortured myself over something so simple… ah, life.]

The next big step for me was taking dance classes. I have always enjoyed dancing but hadn’t taken classes since I was a teenager. Anyone who has stood with a group of people facing a mirror trying to move in a graceful and coordinated way knows how frustrating and confusing it can be. Thankfully, my natural ability and previous experience meant that I picked up the movements quickly — very satisfying from a perfectionism perspective. The real horror came when it came time to perform!!!

I am usually more comfortable behind the scenes than in the spotlight so the thought of getting up in front of an audience wearing a dance costume and performing a choreography was more terrifying than I can express in words. When the time came, I just pretended it wasn’t happening which allowed me to go through with it. It was after it was over and the reality of what I had done hit me that I nearly vomited. My only comfort was knowing that the audience was made up mostly of other bellydance students like me who also got up on the stage and danced in a mediocre manner.

I’ve now performed in 3 students shows… and I hated it every time! But I did it, flaws, mistakes, and all.

My costume the last time I performed in a student show.

My costume the last time I performed in a student show (2011)

Of course, the upside of perfectionism is that it tends to make people really good at what they do. I rarely send out any completed research without going over it more times than I need to in order to make sure that I haven’t forgotten anything. Sometimes I wish I was a person who doesn’t care quite as much, one of the many that are happy with “good enough”. Not everyone recognises the extra effort; often times results that are ok are highly appreciated. But, who am I kidding? That will never be me.

Ironically, I think lack of self-confidence often goes hand-in-hand with perfectionism. That and being extremely detail-oriented. I secretly envy those people who are terrible dancers/singers and who absolutely love to perform. I have to believe that they don’t know how bad they are — they must lack the knowledge to spot the weaknesses in their ability and they must feel that who they are is really great and has to be shared with the world. How wonderful [for them]!

Oh well, I’ve come a long way. Being able to relax, have fun, and not demand the best from myself at all times is a pretty great feeling. I’ll try to remind myself of this during my next accordion lesson when I feel guilty for not having practised enough and frustrated with myself for making mistakes. Onward!

(And now I’m about to stay up way too late revising this post over and over again because that is what I do.)

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