As many of you know, I was a competitive figure skater. Much of my teenage skating career was spent struggling with perfectionism. Perfectionism showed up for me in a myriad of ways, on and off the ice. I share my story because I know there are so many athletes experiencing the same. I often consider what came first, the perfectionism or the athlete? In sports built on precision, these characteristics are nurtured in athletes. But does elite level performance attract someone with perfectionistic personality traits or is it developed along the way?
A Glimpse into My Perfectionism
For me, perfectionism showed up around body image, technical consistency and validation. A need to please my family and coach also drove me. Some examples included:
- Setting a goal, working hard to achieve it but not stopping to pat myself on the back or say good job, instead moving on to the next big goal.
- Having to land the double axel hundreds of times before I could acknowledge the success.
- Skating a personal best but needing to hear “you were amazing” from others to believe I WAS AMAZING!
- Catching a glimpse of myself in the glass as I skated by and judging my body for being too big.
- Feeling good about myself after a coach commented on how thin I looked, having just got back on the ice after a week with the flu.
- Getting told by a coach that if I lost 10 lbs. you could land that triple sal chow.
- Never believing you are good enough.Believing you are a failure or disappointment to your coach and parents when you skate poorly.
- Having a bad practice and feeling like a bad skater.
- Never being content with how you skate, how you look, what you say, how you act, who you are.
Contrary to my old beliefs, Perfectionism is not about striving to do YOUR best but rather about being “perceived as the best” by others.
It is about needing that validation from others to prove that you are enough when, in reality, the fact that you are on this earth makes you enough! When we were little we had a much easier time believing this, then somewhere along the way that belief disappeared and we started caring about what others thought and judging ourselves based on how we believed we should look/act/be.
What came first: the skating or the perfectionist? I am not sure but I do know that there are an incredible number of us involved in this sport and our passion only strengthens our pursuit of the unattainable perfection.
Even as I write this letter, I continue to struggle with perfectionism. In reading this I want you to know that you are not alone. I would also encourage you to push the boundaries of your comfort zone and be real and raw, as I have just been in sharing my story, and ask yourself…
How does perfectionism rear its ugly head for me, both on and off the ice?
Remember education is power and awareness is the key to change. Start that journey today.