Recently, I received a message from the moderator of a Facebook group of which I am a member. It read: “Caroline McGraw, please inbox me…I need to ask you something.”
There was a plummeting, zooming feeling in my stomach. I clicked away, thinking: This isn’t the first time I’ve felt that the ax is about to fall.
All at once, I was back in first grade. My teacher, Mrs. Sanosi, had just returned our assignments. I was a good student, accustomed to seeing “Excellent!” atop my worksheets. But this particular paper had See Me written in red ink. Dear God in heaven. What had I done?
See Me meant lining up beside Mrs. Sanosi’s desk and waiting my turn to talk to her privately … in front of everyone. For a shy, introverted girl like me, this was not a good system. In fact, it was a fate worse than death.
I’d never had a See Me before, and I thought it meant that one had Royally. Screwed. Up. My neurotic six-year-old self could not handle it, nor could she hide that she could not handle it. (I have never been good at hiding my emotions. I have what a former boyfriend of Liz Gilbert’s refers to in Eat, Pray, Love as, “ … the opposite of poker face … miniature golf face.”)
When it was my turn, Mrs. Sanosi took one look at me and said, “Caroline, dear, what’s wrong?”
I handed her the paper and waited for the death blow. It’s possible that I was crying at that point; I’m not sure. But what happened next is very clear in my memory: Mrs. Sanosi said that she’d written See Me on my paper because I’d done a really great job, and she wanted to tell me so in person.
A tidal wave of relief swept through me. “Really?” I squeaked. She gave me a hug.
Oh, and that Facebook message I mentioned earlier? Turns out, the moderator wanted to affirm my work and invite me to speak at an event. All that fear. All that worry. All for nothing.
Have you ever had this happen to you? Have you ever walked around waiting for the ax to fall, only to find that it was never really there?
If so, then you know the feeling that rushes over you when you realize your mistake: it’s the purest kind of relief. It tastes like liberation, like running headlong into the ocean with your friends at your side.
And with that relief comes the realization that even if what you dread DOES happen – even if you DO get called out or criticized – it’s not the end of the world. It doesn’t define you. You’re not your perfect grades or sublime Facebook record.
You’re more than that. Much, much more. So you get to take a pass on being terrified of imperfection. You get to forgo freaking out when you make a mistake. You get to be free.
Sometimes I wonder what it might be like to meet Love (or God, if you prefer) face-to-face. In my imagination, She hands me a paper magically detailing my entire life story. But there’s no grade on it; instead, two old, familiar words top the page: See Me.
Though I receive this paper with trembling hands, I’m not afraid anymore. Because in Love’s presence, See Me doesn’t look like a condemnation. Instead – how could I not have seen this before? – it’s an invitation.
See Me, and see that I’m so glad to see you. Always have been, always will be.
See Me, and see that where you feared judgment, you’ve found only mercy.
See Me, and see yourself as I see you …
Do you struggle with perfectionism? Join the conversation in the comments!
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