I know you feel lonely. Like you don’t fit in. You have been called stuck up and aloof. You have always felt different. Left out. I know. Because you’re an eagle.
You know how to soar. You know how to spread your wings and let the wind carry you. You know how to lean into the wind, and you know how to soar.
But then the loneliness came. You realized you were all alone. You saw all the other birds and wanted to join them. You tried.
You joined with the chickens and wanted to be productive like they are. You wanted to roost safely at night in the coop. You wanted to be useful—producing new eggs every day. You tried to join in their conversation, but couldn’t relate at all. You tried pecking for worms or corn on the ground—but your beak wasn’t made for that.
You tried to join the ducks on the pond. You saw their graceful landing on the water. You tried to blend in, but they just looked at you funny. When they went underwater to fetch fish for their dinner, you didn’t fit in. In fact, you felt even more lonely.
I know you found the highest tree possible to build your nest. It wasn’t easy, but you laid your beautiful eggs. You sat on that nest while they developed and grew, even though you’d rather be flying.
You weathered the storms and sheltered your brood. You saw the other birds and wished you could join their flock, but you kept your place on your nest.
You see your eagle friends in the distance. They look so beautiful—swooping and soaring and doing their thing. You know that feeling. You know what it feels like to soar. You admire your eagle friends. You understand their flight and their success. Because you’re an eagle, too.
You wish you could soar with other eagles, but you can’t. Eagles don’t fly in groups, packs, or flocks. They fly alone. You’re lonely, because you’re an eagle.
You are majestic and strong. You fly into the wind and soar on top of it. You are at the top of the tree in your nest, not because you’re better than anyone else. No, it’s just because you’re an eagle.
When the storms come, you don't run and hide. No, you fly above the clouds--because that's what eagles do.
You tried to fit in. You tried to join the crowd. You tried to shake off this loneliness and isolation, but you never really will. Because you’re an eagle.
The only way to truly be fulfilled and satisfied is to fly. Because that’s what eagles do best. Feel the wind and soar. Feel the challenge and swoop and dive and fly. You must. Because you’re an eagle.
Perfectionism used to be my drug of choice.
The funny thing is, I didn’t even know it was a drug. I didn’t even know it was a choice. Perfectionism was so hard-wired into my core, mapped into my DNA before I was born, that I was blind to its effects, its grip, and its power over my life.
I was the kid who organized her friends’ toys during a playdate. I loved organizing my room on Saturdays. The books could be arranged by height, color, or size. My mom remarked that my room looked like a store display. I shrugged. How else should it look? To me, the options were perfect or nothing. I didn’t even know how to be anything else.
I worked really hard in school to get straight A’s. Music and writing were easy for me, but math and science was another language I didn’t care to learn. But the drive inside of me to get all A’s was overwhelming. At times, I chose to cheat on a test, just to pull up my grades. I did this over and over in elementary school, then vowed to quit in junior high. I slipped back into my cheating habits just a few times in high school, but hated the accompanying guilt. For all my effort, I only once achieved straight A’s. Every other report card had one lonely B staring at me. It would haunt me and punish me, standing out like it had been highlighted in bright yellow. For me, math and science were like whack-a-mole. I would grasp one, only to have the other one pop up. It was exhausting.
My teachers saw all my effort, and rewarded me, of course. They loved me. I was the “teacher’s pet” and the “star student.” My class notes were beautiful and classmates would ask if they could photocopy them. I became the school newspaper editor and loved correcting all of my classmate’s errors. I attended a private preparatory school, so my classes were very difficult. In college, I easily tested out of 12 credits to bypass the general Freshman level classes.
I had no idea there was any other way to live.
If you look in my yearbook my senior year, I’m pretty sure they labeled me the “perfectionist.” I shrugged. How else was there to be? Of course I had white-out in my purse. Why wouldn’t I? Of course my locker was always organized. Of course I had a planner and everything written down. Didn’t everyone? I was so focused on A’s and perfection that I truly hardly noticed anyone around me. I didn’t criticize them. I didn’t resent them. I just thought perfect was the only way to be.
In college, I pursued a music major and had to work extremely hard to survive the heavy class load. All the music majors around me took 5 years to graduate, but I had life plans and held myself to a standard of completing in 4 years. I also started a business teaching piano lessons, and got married. Stress was high, but it was every man for himself, so I just put my head down and worked. I mapped out 12 hours of my day, assigning a task for each 30 minute time block. I knew exactly when I was scheduled to be in class, when I was scheduled to practice, and when I should study. Dinner was often at 10:00pm when appetizers at Applebee’s were half price.
My senior year of college brought a black cloud of darkness over me. The depression that always lurked in the prereferral of my life came into full view. I could hardly get out of bed. I was numb. I was done. My mom urged me to slow down take one more year to graduate. I stared at her, aghast. It wasn’t even an option. My new husband got me through, lovingly, gently. The clouds broke and I could see hope again. I had no idea that my own unrealistic standards were suffocating me.
During chapel, the day before graduation, I was looking down at the program, half paying attention when my friend elbowed me.
“They just called your name,” she hissed.
“What?!” I replied.
“Go up there!” she whispered.
I had been acknowledged as “Music Graduate of the Year.”
I was shocked.
I had no expectation of winning an award that day. This would start a series of awards in my life that I never aimed to win. But when perfection is your goal, others notice.
My business went on to win numerous awards and press attention. I have a series of trophies in my office that feel fake to me. When I was awarded each one, they brought me shame and embarrassment. I didn’t feel I deserved them. I wasn’t living up to my own harsh standards. I was so far from where I wanted to be. In my heart, I couldn’t even accept the applause or praise.
They didn’t know what I knew: I was still falling so far behind.
The curse of perfectionism is that the finish line keeps moving. There’s always another goal, another standard, and of course there is, because what else am I supposed to do? Stop moving forward? Ridiculous. Stop and party? Not for me. Not who I am.
I love the thrill of the chase. I love learning and growing. I love creating.
I love throwing myself into a project from start to completion. I love making things happen.
I keep rejecting the standing ovations.
I’m not good enough. (Sit down, please!) This is only my warm-up. Wait until you see what I’m cooking up next!
No, seriously. This is nothing. The next thing will really be praise-worthy.
I’m just a simple girl. Nothing special. Why are you staring agape at me?
I feel God’s love pulling me, reaching for me, overlaying my life. I love him back, but I reject the acceptance that I’m enough just the way I am.
I must try harder. There’s always an area I’m falling short. I punish myself. I scold myself. My inner critic has a heyday. The shame floods over me, like a dark, warm blanket. My face burns and flushes. I have so far to go.
With others, I show grace. I give mercy. I’m only a slave master to myself. I show grace, but I cannot accept it.
What is grace? Grace feels to me like forgiveness for falling short.
Of course I fall short. Of course I’m not perfect (but, honestly, I want to be).
Growing up, my mom told me, “Life’s not fair.” My logic told me that, of course life isn’t fair, but as long as I can control something (like the schedule for unloading the dishwasher), we could sure try.
My mom told me, “You can’t be perfect.” My retort was that the Bible said Christ was perfect and my Sunday school teacher told me we should be like Christ. She sighed.
Only now, as a 40-year-old mom, my eyes being opened to the impossible standard I have held myself to.
I cannot blame anyone else. It’s in my DNA. It’s my drug of choice, my sin of choice, my cross to bear.
But now that my eyes are open? Grace.
Now that I see clearly the glasses that I have worn all these years? Grace.
My heart was broken when I researched the Enneagram and discovered that my type was a 1. Naturally, I thought I was a 3, the Achiever. Look at all I had accomplished! Look at all the awards I had won! But what didn’t line up is that awards don’t motivate me. They don’t drive me. They aren’t what pushes me forward.
Perfectionism, or improvement, does. The awards are simply a man-made construct that others have awarded me. I didn’t ask for most of them. I just did my best and happened to win. You can take them all away and I won’t care. They don’t define me.
But ask me if my heart beats for improving systems, life, procedures, myself, my world? Yes.
Beautiful grace whispers, like the cool breeze on a summer day. Like a mist coming in off the water. It’s ribbons rippling in the wind flood my soul and bring a balm to my lifelong wounds. There’s grace. There’s rest. There’s forgiveness.
I rest. I sigh. I breathe.
I’m still me, and I’ll keep being me. But now I know. Now I see.
I see the years of striving and punishing myself. I see why I rejected the words of praise and the applause from my audience. I see the root of who I am, and how I was made, and the road ahead.
I’ve always prayed, “Use me, Lord,” and that’s exactly what I pray now. Pick me up, like your instrument, and use me for your glory. I’ll be me, and you take over.
I’ll reach out and receive what you’ve always been trying to give me: grace
Hi, I'm Jen Hickle!