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My journey with imperfection (or rather, my journey in protecting it) is a hard one to reflect upon.

It is very bittersweet…bitter because of how long it took me to learn to embrace it instead of covering it up…and sweet because of how good it feels to finally understand the value that it brings to the table.

Looking back, the place where I tried to hide my imperfection the most was in the classroom. The moment that school became more about critical thinking and less about rote memorization, I had a really difficult time. I could study all day long and memorize facts, dates, and definitions and easily regurgitate them. But when it came to generating genuine thoughts and opinions, straight from my brain to everyone’s ears…I was always hit with an unhealthy dose of anxiety and fear. My brain repeated the same thought every time, “If I say what I’m thinking, it might be wrong and everyone will think I’m stupid.” So instead of risking it, I sacrificed my education (although I didn’t see it that way at the time), averted my eyes from the teacher, and kept my hand way down low. Part of this was because I was and am an incredibly shy person who has always had a hard time with public speaking, but I also know that a big part of this was because I was scared of appearing like I was incompetent.

I really didn’t understand the effects that this was having on my growth and development until I reached graduate school and was essentially forced out of my cocoon where I was fiercely protecting my imperfections. I studied clinical psychology and was so fortunate to do so because even though I was going to class every day to learn about how to treat others, I was also learning so much about how to treat myself. Unlike the teachers and professors in the past, who cared about their students but didn’t always have the time or energy to work on things unrelated to what was being taught in the classroom, the professors in graduate school really cared deeply about my development as a human being. I wasn’t allowed to skate by without sharing my thoughts anymore. When I started speaking up, I didn’t have these magical moments where I discovered that all of my thoughts were brilliant and that I should have started participating ages ago because everything I had to say was perfect and right, but what I did discover was much more meaningful. I discovered that many of my thoughts, answers, and responses were flawed but without sharing them, I was losing the opportunities to hear other people’s perspectives, to receive feedback, and to ultimately evolve.

“If I say what I’m thinking, it might be wrong and everyone will think I’m stupid.” So instead of risking it, I sacrificed my education.

I think that as with most growth and development, a lot of different factors go into influencing a person to identify what is not working. Similarly, there are a lot of different ways to work through it. My brain found these concepts to be the most motivating and the most helpful:

1. The things I’m doing are really only hurting myself.

2. I will never be able to control what other people think of me.

3. I always learn the most from my mistakes, my failures, my imperfections.

4. Showing my imperfections tend to make me feel more connected to others.

5. My imperfections are what make me human.

I’m not sure if the dangers of hiding things away and pretending to be something you’re not are things we inherently know as humans, but somehow gets muddled over time by what our anxiety and fear does to push it away. But that’s what it felt like on my journey. It never felt great to not ask the questions I had because I didn’t want to appear confused or to act like I knew what was happening and then secretly go home and Google everything. It just wasn’t in alignment with what my mind, body, and soul knew to be the truth. It wasn’t an easy process but the things worth having and knowing never are. I am forever grateful for the people in my life who encouraged me to love and embrace every part of who I am.

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