MidLife

Practice Makes Progress

Recently I wrote a guest blog post, Thriving Requires Letting Go of the Lies, for Sue’s Over Fifty and Thriving series. The idea for that post was inspired by the widely popular book, Girl, Wash Your Face, by Rachel Hollis (my review here). Since I continue to mull over this topic, I decided to make it the subject of a new blog series: The Lies I’ve Believed.Β 

In the original guest post, I introduced Delilah, my harsh inner critic who constantly reminds me I am not good enough, brave enough or smart enough. Her loud, commanding voice tells me I am better off alone than out in the world pursuing my dreams. She is quite convincing.

But I’m tired of living this way. I’m merely existing rather than embracing an abundant life. It is time to replace Delilah’s lies with the truth.

This week’s lie: Practice Makes Perfect.

My first life lesson was Keep your eye on the ball.

At the time I was a kindergartner trying to learn kickball. Coordinating my kick with the ball crossing the plate, while at the same time preparing to beat the throw to first base seemed daunting. I looked where I wanted the ball to go before actually connecting with it.

Dad taught me that important lesson in kindergarten and several years later when I wanted to play baseball with the neighborhood kids. Squinting at the noonday sun took my eyes off the ball – which helped the other team score the run.

I was convinced I couldn’t play. However, Dad never let me quit.

Practice was always the answer. Not pleased with your performance? Practice. Not happy with your GPA? Practice. Not moving up the corporate ladder fast enough? Practice.

I began to think it did matter if I won or lost (winning is always best). Joy was not foundΒ on the journey. The journey was something to endure in order to achieve the goal. If practice makes perfect, the goal must be perfection, right?

I attended parochial school from kindergarten through fifth grade. Fortunately, I enjoyed school, and rote memory was my learning style. Because of this predisposition, making straight As came easily.

To reward academic excellence, the school scheduled a dedicated chapel service where all students who achieved straight As for the entire year were given special recognition.

My most vivid memory was at the end of fifth-grade. As a way to reinforce math skills, the teacher asked us to average our own final grades. Only two of us were in the running for the full-year Dean’s List. The pressure was high. We didn’t want to let our class down.

The teacher read allowed our scores in each subject. We had to add them and divide by the total number of assessments. My straight A average was safe … until geography. I scored a 65 on one test. As the teacher read aloud my grades, the entire class gasped: Molly got an F!

At that time,Β 92 and above earned an A; 83-91 earned a B. I carefully added the numbers and divided by six. My average was a 91.5.

I did represent our class in the all-school assembly because the grade rounded to an A (the other student received a B+ in spelling and her parents canceled her birthday party).

Because that event was so traumatic, I vowed I would never again strive for straight As. It just wasn’t worth the pressure.

But somehow I can’t stop striving for near perfection. I set the expectation high and the pressure is always great. There is no joy in the journey because I’m too fearful of possible failure.

And Delilah is always quick to point out my shortcomings.

While I know I’ve lost many decades to the impossible pursuit of perfection, I refuse to believe this lie anymore. Perfection is not the goal. Excellence may be the goal. Learning and becoming a better version of myself may be the goal. Having fun along the way is most definitely a worthy goal. But not perfection.

The truth: Practice Makes Progress.

24 Comments

  • Natalie

    Sorry to read about the pressures you had to endure in school, Molly. It’s never too late to spend time on activities that bring you joy now. Have a great week! #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      Natalie, I know I’m not the only to view my high school career as less than “the glory days”. Others had it far worse. But I do think it is time to come to peace with the injustices of the past so I can move forward into a bright new future.

  • Michele

    I’ve struggled with perfectionism too. What ‘s so wrong with excellence? It has taken me years to see that it is okay to strive for things but not at the expense of your health or your sleep or your sanity. I still strive to do well with things, but I also want to enjoy the ride! I agree, perfectionism is not the goal!

    • Molly Totoro

      I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to understand the difference between striving for perfection and striving for excellence. Let’s just say I am still struggling to remember they are NOT synonymous πŸ™‚

  • Donna

    Hi, Molly – The examples that you have given from your early school life, are heart-breaking. The teacher reading your grades out loud, a classmate’s parents cancelling her birthday party due to a B+…….. I am glad that you no longer believe the lies…and that you are encouraging others not to believe their own lies as well!
    Thank you for another great post.
    #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      Interestingly, I never held the teacher responsible. I always assumed it was a school policy πŸ™‚ My fourth-grade teacher, however, is a different story. Her rule was to have all assessments signed by a parent. One time in mid-March I forgot. My grades were good, but I simply forgot. For some reason, she decided to make an example out of me and paddle me in front of the class. It didn’t hurt physically, but my pride was wounded to the core. To this day, I’ve never understood why she had to embarrass me like that…

  • Janet Mary Cobb

    Molly – the damage done by primary school teachers is frightening! And, so often the simple sayings like ‘practice makes perfect’ seem innocuous but really aren’t. I love that you are creating this series because I think so many of us have carried beliefs that just don’t work. Looking forward to how you call out Delilah!

    • Molly Totoro

      Delilah and I are having many conversations these days, Janet πŸ™‚ While I’m tired of her lies, I’m also seeking to understand her. She has a wounded past, I think. I reason if I can fully understand her pain perhaps I can help myself overcome my own.

  • Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au

    Perfectionism has been my cross to bear for almost all my life Molly – my parents were very big on not complimenting anything I did (they didn’t want to make my under-achieving brother feel bad apparently!) So I spent all my childhood trying harder and harder to win that all consuming nod of approval. What a wicked thing to do to a child – and I trie very hard not to pass that on to my own children (although my daughter says she lived in her high-achieving brother’s shadow because other people always compared – sigh!)
    I’m so glad we’ve both decided to give ourselves a break and just enjoy doing things to our best standard and not beating ourselves up if it’s a B+.
    #MLSTL and I’ve shared this on my SM xx

    • Molly Totoro

      Ah… that nod of approval. For me, it was the elusive words I heard my mom say about my aunt: “I just don’t know how she does it all.” The years (decades) of over-achieving and over-doing and over-everything … finally took its toll. Now I can look back and say those words I longed to hear. And I have no desire to ever earn that “praise” again. Blessings to you, Leanne, for coming to grips with your own perfectionism!

  • Kay

    Molly, your experiences in school were very similar to mine. I really think that way of teaching was common in earlier days. It certainly was at the schools I attended. And my parents definitely told me ‘keep your eye on the ball’ (I was horrible at sports and a nervous kid who got worse the more stressed I got) and ‘practice makes perfect’. I will say that, like you, most of the tasks at school came easily just because of my learning style. However, I always felt my grades were not quite good enough. If I got a B, my father would ask me why. He did compliment the A grades, but always first asked why the B. And told me to work harder. My younger brother and sister were not high achievers and never seemed to care much about the parental ‘pushing’. My father didn’t give them such a hard time though and so they were more relaxed. However, they also didn’t have very good grades. Ah well. That was a long time ago. I still struggle with the ‘voice’ in my head. I keep thinking I have silenced her and then she will rear her ugly little head again over something. Mine is named ‘Hulga’ by the way. Ha! She’s a horrid little woman.

    • Molly Totoro

      I also think this method of teaching was more prevalent in the “olden” days πŸ™‚ And I think there is a fine line between parents accepting their children as they are and yet instilling a good work ethic. I’m sure I failed my own children in this way. I always told them… if a C is the best you can do, then a C is terrific. However, you shouldn’t settle for a C because it’s the path of least resistance. Not sure that was good advice or not. Perhaps this is another lie I need to investigate…

  • Agnes

    I find the pressure I put on myself as an adult can be far harder than the pressure my circle put on me as a child. But I whole-heartedly agree with the “Practice makes Progress” – releasing the whole perfectionism standard that so many of us inflict on ourselves and others. Excellence can be personalized within and makes for a far more attainable goal! #mlstl

    • Molly Totoro

      You raise an interesting point, Agnes. While I felt the pressure as a child, I know I put far more pressure on myself as an adult. And while I honored my promise to never make straight As again… perhaps I overcompensated for that under-achievement in all the other areas of life. I never acclimated to the corporate world because it seemed to honor mediocrity while I continued to strive for the A. I think I carry that attitude with me all the time, even when doing something for fun (like photography or scrapbooking). Obviously, I have a bit more work to do πŸ™‚

  • Victoria

    I have never strived for perfection. As the oldest child in my family, I was always to busy trying to keep my brother and sisters going and doing good enough was all I could manage. I was always able to achieve anything I decided I wanted and never really had an inner voice pushing me.

    • Molly Totoro

      How blessed you are, Victoria! I am also the oldest in the family, but I took the over-achieving route. Perfectionism is a disease and I am glad you have never suffered πŸ™‚

  • Mary Lou Quinn

    Oh boy! Memories of the pressure of catholic school education. Such pressure on young children to be this perfect (saintly) being. I took this into my marriage, motherhood and homemaker. For better or worse (and for me better) the Sixties helped me to lighten up and ‘smell the roses’. I’ve always been comfortable being ‘in the middle’ when it comes to grades and achievements. I’m content with that. Having two older brothers and being the middle child in the family probably contributed to the middle ground contentment. I’ll be sharing on FB and Twitter for #MLSTL Molly! Thanks!
    https://meinthemiddlewrites.com/2018/09/07/me-in-the-middle-of-my-third-year-anniversary/

    • Molly Totoro

      Lighten up and smell the roses… yes, Mary Lou, this is what I am learning to do πŸ™‚ I gave up believing I could become a saintly creature long ago, but unfortunately, I did not give up striving. Working so hard for an unattainable goal leads to insanity! It’s time to get off that ride and enjoy life for what it is: imperfect, messy, and joy-filled.

    • Molly Totoro

      Sorry Mary Lou πŸ™ A busy weekend prevented me from approving comments in a timely manner. Thank you so much for sharing with others!

  • Trisha Faye

    Deliliah! I LOVE that! I, too, have a harsh inner critic. (Unfortunately, I think too many of us have that in common.) I never thought of naming her. GREAT IDEA! Then, with a name, it might be easier to turn around and just tell XXX to ‘Shut up and go away!’
    Now…to ponder on what I shall call her…
    Sharing on MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      Naming the demon really helps, Trisha. I’m now going through personality tests (Myers Briggs and Enneagram) to construct Delilah’s personality. I figure once I begin to deal with a “real” character, I can easily stand up to her πŸ™‚ I’d love to hear what name you finally choose…

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