Growing up, my parents (particularly my mom) expected greatness. This helped me do well in school but it also had a negative side effect: I became a perfectionist. I think perfectionism is tied to pleasing others and trying to make sure people like us. If we are perfect, you have to love us right? We feel like we aren't good enough as is, so if we are perfect, it will make up for it.
Both of my parents were the oldest in their families and came from low-income households. They were both the first to attend college in each of their families and did so completely on their own at 17. My dad's dad died when he was 14, and my mom grew up in a very chaotic household. They had a no-nonsense approach to life because they overcame so much to get where they are.
They expected a lot from my brother and I; honestly, they were a bit emotionally unavailable. People-pleasing was my way to make sure I was doing the best I could to make my parents happy.
While I don't think it was intentional, my parents set me up to avoid failure at all costs. Which basically translated to: take no risks. If you stick to things you know you will be successful at, you'll never fail. On top of those restrictions, I also chose things that I felt would not only be easy for me but would also be rewarded with praise.
We feel like we aren't good enough as is, so if we are perfect, it will make up for it.
Despite being a perfectionist, during my rebellious streak, I didn't go to college right after high school. I actually got married at 18, had a daughter at 20, and only then did I decide to go back to school. I chose to go into education because I had no idea what I wanted to do. I also knew I would be able to take easy math classes. Once again, less challenge meant less failure.
In my senior year, I realized that education was not for me, but I decided to finish the degree and go through the internship anyway — just to make sure. I cried so many times during those four months. At that point, I was 100% sure teaching elementary school was not my calling! When I told my parents, my dad showed up unannounced at my house to try and talk me out of making that decision. Luckily, in addition to being a people-pleaser, I am also exceptionally stubborn once I make a decision.
I ended up in human resources. I loved it for a while, especially when I worked in campus recruitment. Unfortunately, I let my people-pleasing get the best of me because my husband didn't like that I was traveling so much. I loved the traveling, but to make him happy I went into an HR advisor role with no travel. He didn't ask me to do that, but I could sense he wasn't happy and that was just how I was back then.
I never knew anything different; there was simply no other way to be. I was raised to believe that high-achievement was admirable and failure simply wasn't an option. And yet, no matter how "perfect" I was, by the time I was 30, I hated my job, had two degrees I didn't want to use, and no direction on where I wanted to go. What went wrong?
How Perfectionism Can Hurt Us
If you looked at my life at 30, you may have thought, "What's the problem?" I had a great marriage, an awesome daughter, and a well-paying job at a global company.
The problem was that I wasn't living up to my potential. I didn't know who I was or what I wanted. I was "successful" on the outside, but on the inside, I was completely lost. I had spent my life chasing perfection by avoiding even the smallest chance of failure, and where had that gotten me?
I was raised to believe that high-achievement was admirable and failure simply wasn't an option. And yet, no matter how "perfect" I was, by the time I was 30, I hated my job, had two degrees I didn't want to use, and no direction on where I wanted to go.
I started drinking more and gained weight because I couldn't figure out why I couldn't just be happy. I thought there was something wrong with me. And, what's more, I had a ton of trouble asking for help. This tendency of mine was apparent in both my work and in my relationships. I felt like I had to do everything myself because I couldn't trust anyone else to do it right. This led to severe burnout. I was never able to trust other people the way I wanted, so instead of letting people help me, I would take everything on myself. I also never wanted to burden anyone with any task I could do myself, even if I was in a higher position.
Perfectionism can lead to several different psychological problems such as depression, bulimia, anorexia, and other eating disorders and mental illness. For me, this meant feeling like I was never good enough and getting burnt out; for you, it might mean something different entirely. But what we all have in common is that little voice in our head that tells us that nothing less than perfect is good enough.
Eventually, I left one HR job for a similar but higher-paying role, and soon after realized I hated the new job. So, I went back to my old job, and soon after I realized that I didn't like that one either. Then one day after a dentist appointment and a weekday morning, I popped into a Starbucks and was surprised to see it pretty full despite being a weekday.
I was so intrigued as to how these people were able to make a living like this — working out of a Starbucks. My curiosity peaked, and I haven't gone back. This one event set off a deep desire in myself to make that life happen, which led me to a huge personal development quest. In the quest, I learned the biggest hang-up for me getting to that life I wanted was my people-pleasing ways. I would have to change things about myself that made everyone else happy so that I could be happy. In other words, I had to stop being perfect.
How Do We Overcome Perfectionism?
After obsessively taking every personality test there was, I learned I was an INFJ Myers Briggs type. One characteristic of this personality is black and white thinking. I was either good or bad, perfect or a failure — no in between. As I dove deeper into personal development I learned this way of thinking was severely holding me back. I read a ton of books and blogs and I listened to countless podcasts and finally learned that the most successful people view failure as a stepping stone to success. This was completely the opposite of how I had previously been living and has led to a far more mindful existence.
Becoming more mindful has helped me so much. I started with yoga at home, by myself. I struggled with comparing myself to others at first; I was a beginner and not super flexible. I was afraid of even going into a studio and being judged for my comparative lack of abilities. But, after practicing at home for a year, I overcame my fear and talked my friend into going with me to a studio — imperfection on full display.
Perfectionism can lead to several different psychological problems... For me, this meant feeling like I was never good enough and getting burnt out; for you, it might mean something different entirely. But what we all have in common is that little voice in our head that tells us that nothing less than perfect is good enough.
And, you know what? The more I went, the less afraid I felt. I started listening to the teachers on all the aspects of yoga. Comparison is not the way of the yogi. It freed me from the notion that I needed to be at a certain level. I let go and just lived in the moment. Yoga is such an amazing practice to get in tune with yourself. I even started meditating for about five minutes a day to go inward. I have always been a future tripper. I lived in the pursuit of my next great achievement, never stopping to be happy about what I had done. Yoga and meditation are practices that get you into the now. This was something I desperately needed, and as I worked on these practices, I started to feel more at peace with my life as it is in the moment.
Another huge help for me was my journey in reading self-improvement books. The more I read about successful people, the more I realized that my avoidance of trying anything even remotely challenging was not going to make me successful. These people took a totally different approach. If they were failing it meant they were learning and growing. They were getting closer to their goals, while I was living in fear and staying stuck.
All of these experiences helped me to see that there was another way. I needed to get in touch with what I wanted and let go of the idea that everything needed to be perfect. Living with a growth mindset has helped me see there truly is no failure as long as we learn something from every experience.
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- Perfectionist? 10 Ways to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy | Inc.com ›
Except for 16, I have celebrated all of my milestone birthdays in New York City.
I turned 16 in Arnold, Missouri. Arnold is a small town (though not small anymore) 20 miles south of St. Louis. St. Louis is known for the Gateway Arch, a beautiful arch of shiny stainless steel, built by the National Parks Service in 1935 to commemorate Thomas Jefferson's vision of a transcontinental U.S. St. Louis is also known for its custard, a frozen dessert that is so thick, they hand it to you upside down with a spoon inside. Something else about St. Louis you should know is that there is a courthouse just steps from the base of the Gateway Arch where one of the most important cases in history was tried: Dred Scott v. Sanford.
I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive.
Mr. Scott was born into enslavement around 1799 and, in 1830, was sold to a military surgeon who traveled back and forth between his military posts in Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was prohibited under the Missouri Compromise of 1820. In 1842 the doctor and Mr. Scott both married, and they, all four, returned to St. Louis. Still enslaved, Dred Scott filed a lawsuit against the doctor's wife for his and his wife Harriet's freedom. We don't know exactly why he chose this moment in time to file a lawsuit, however, he did. At the time of filing his, now, famous lawsuit, he was 50 years old. Ultimately, The Scott family did not gain their freedom, but their profound courage in filling this case helped ignite the Civil War and what we would come to know (or think we know) as freedom from enslavement for all human beings. Powerful then and even more powerful now.
My next milestone was turning 21, and I did it in the Big Apple. Having only moved to "the city that never sleeps" a few months prior, I knew nobody except my new friends, the bus-boys from the restaurant I was working at, Patzo's on the Upper West Side. And, yes, pazzo is actually the correct spelling of the Italian word, which translates to "crazy." Trust me we all had several laughs about the misspelling and the definition going hand in hand. I worked a full shift, closing out at around 11 PM, when, my kitchen team came out from the line with a cake singing, "Cumpleaños Feliz." It was fantastic. And the kindness of these almost-strangers was a powerful reminder of connection then as it still is today almost 29 years later.
I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy.
When I turned 30, I had just finished a European tour with Lucinda Childs dance company. The company had been on tour for months together and were inseparable. We traveled through Paris, Vienna, Lisbon, and Rome. We ate together, we rode on a bus together, we had drinks after shows together, and we even took turns giving company class to get warmed up before a show. It was deeply meaningful and dreamy. We ended the tour back in New York City at BAM, The Brooklyn Academy of Music. It was an incredible way to end the tour, by being on our home court, not to mention I was having an important birthday at the culmination of this already incredible experience.
So, when I invited everyone to join me at Chelsea Pier's Sky Rink to ice skate in late August, I was schooled really quickly that "tour" does not mean you are friends in real life, it means you are tour friends. When the tour ends, so does the relationship. I skated a few laps and then went home. This was a beautiful lesson learned about who your real friends are; it was powerful then as it is today.
Turning 40 was a completely different experience. I was in a serious relationship with my now-husband, Joe. I had just come off of a successful one-woman dance show that I produced, choreographed, and danced in, I had just choreographed a feature film, John Turturro's Romance and Cigarettes, with A-list actors, including Kate Winslet and James Gandolfini, who became a dear friend and had even been on the red carpet with Susan Sarandon at the Venice Film Festival for the movie a year earlier.
And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age.
This was a very special birthday, and I had, in those 10 years between 30 and 40, come to cultivate very real friendships with some wonderful colleagues. We all celebrated at a local Italian restaurant, Etcetera Etcetera (who is delivering for those of you in NYC — we order weekly to support them during COVID), a staple in the theater district. Joe and I were (and are) regulars and, of course, wanted to celebrate my 40th with our restaurant family and friends. We were upstairs in the private room, and it was really lovely. Many of those in attendance are no longer with us, including Joe's Dad, Bob Ricci, and my dear friend Jim Gandolfini having transitioned to the other side. Currently, that restaurant is holding on by a thread of loving neighbors and regulars like us. Life is precious. Powerful then and today even more so.
I write this article because I'm turning 50, still in New York City. However, I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive. And I could not be more filled with hope, love, possibility, and power. This year has included an impeachment hearing, a global pandemic, and global protests that are finally giving a larger platform to the Black Lives Matter movement. Being able to fully embody who I am as a woman, a 50-year-old woman who is living fully in purpose, takes the cake, the rink, and the party.
I'm making movies about conversations around race. I've been happily married for 11 years to the love of my life, Joe Ricci. I'm amplifying and elevating the voices of those who have not previously had a platform for speaking out. I choose who to spend time with and how long! I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy. Being 50 is one of the most amazing things I ever thought I could experience. And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age. I'm 50 and powerful. Dred Scott was 50 and powerful. This powerful lesson is for today and tomorrow. We have the power. No matter what age you are, I invite you to use your powerful voice to join me in making the world a better place.