Fear and Perfection

I was just thinking about the way I grew up, the way I was shaped in my life and how I adapted to situations.

I think, all my life, I’ve been a perfectionist. There is no doubt in that. I mean, I had a childhood but when my dad asked me what I wanted as a kid, I told him assignment books. Maybe I just liked the idea of working hard, or maybe I just liked working hard, I think it’s most likely the former. I did the assessments though, but I was never really one to top the class or be known for my brains. I’m pretty slow when it comes to processing information. It may seem like a shocker to some, because I was doing pretty well in MI in the beginning, but that’s only because I worked hard. I make it a point to emphasise that I’m not born a genius, only because I fear expectations, and being a perfectionist, I fear falling below expectations the most.

I have a few things I like to do – I like to bake, I like to run; I used to run in competitions in primary school and I would win medals and trophies. They were glorious. But growing up, I began developing this fear of just failing or falling below expectations, and the thing is, nobody puts those expectations on me, I put them on myself. My dad told me that, we were walking back home from secondary school one night and it was the night he saw my report card. I asked if he was disappointed and he said he was not, he’s just worried about either my Maths or Chinese, cause I have been failing it. But he wasn’t upset with my grades, somehow, I read it as him being upset with it. So when I got home, I cried. And he found out I was crying, and he asked why, so I told him that it was because I disappointed him and he was genuinely shocked. And that was when I realised, I place expectations on myself, and my expectations are unrealistically high. I’m pretty hard on myself and it often upsets me.

Back to where I was going with this. I know there are two things I could be good at – the first is baking, the second is running. In primary school, I was always chosen to enter many races for my house because my PE teachers knew I was that good. I trained hard, really hard, and I never missed a practice because I loved it. I loved the thrill of competing. I loved imagining being the first to cross the line and standing on the podium to receive my Gold trophies, sometimes Silver. So one day, someone recognised my abilities and talents, and offered to train me personally. I was invited to compete in an even larger competition, against other schools I think? And he would observe me from the stands. I was even given my first track shoes, that was a major thing for me. But I was nervous, because I didn’t know who my competition was and how good they were, and I did not trust in my own capabilities. So when they sounded the horn, I was running the 400m and I saw all these girls sprinting past me and they had so much power, so much stamina. From coming in first back in my own turf in primary school, I came in second last, and I was devastated. I think that was where it all began – when I realised, there were others who would always be better than me. But instead of taking it in good stride, I began to live in fear.

So the trainer who was observing me was still keen on taking me on to train under him. Even though I came in second last, he saw my potential but he also saw what I did wrong – I was swaying my arms too much. But I withdrew into fear and I declined. And my dad tried to talk me into it because he knew my potential too and he knew that I was only saying that out of fear because I did the same with my keyboard lessons and with gymnastics. But I was just so convinced that I could never be better that I declined. When I grew up and got into secondary school, my housemates (when we still had houses) would ask if I wanted to race. Instead of the flame I had in my eyes as a kid in primary school, eager to say yes; I said no instead, and my eyes were of fear. So much fear.

Now, I picked up baking and I know I have the potential for it. Maybe not in a prodigy kind of way. I honed those skills actually, because I enjoyed the hobby. I relied on researched recipes to modify and attempt but somehow I can never get the aesthetics to be as good as I want them to be. Though, admittedly, I think they taste good. Hehe! I do, but not in a boastful way. I see how others make their cakes and they are so amazing, I know I can never be as good as them. And maybe that’s where I went wrong – saying “I can never.” People have often told me that my bakes look good, and that I should start selling. Even though I’ve started and restarted my baking account on instagram to showcase them, I never really put them up for sale or to advertise. I guess because I don’t believe in my abilities enough or that I’m afraid that it won’t meet their expectations, or mine. I am afraid to be criticised because it would make me not want to bake again. But I know I can’t keep living like that, and that there is such a thing as constructive criticism and that I got to keep trying to fight my fears.

Sometimes I wish that I would have accepted that training all those years back. I wish I had made that decision because maybe then I would have changed the way I looked at criticism or failure. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so afraid. This thing has been following me like a shadow for years and I really hope one day I’ll be brave enough to turn around and say “enough, I am good enough. And I can be better” instead of “I know I’m not good enough, and I’ll never be as good as them”. I kill my own passions. I really do, and this has to stop.

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