Standing in the arena

By Jackie Rainford Corcoran Explore Big Sky Health Columnist

In the summer months, I stay busy painting and teaching art in addition to health coaching. Art is usually relaxing and rewarding, however a recent lesson with a teenage student became very intense.

As the young woman worked on a landscape painting, tears began streaming down her cheeks. I was shocked and concerned. She explained, with anguish in her voice, that her trees were not “perfect.” My heart broke and I wanted to take her pain away. I gently explained that perfectionism is the killer of creativity and that her trees were beautiful. She rejected my words of encouragement.

I drove home thinking about perfectionism while half-listening to an audio book when, surprisingly, the narrator began describing how most humans deal with perfectionism on some level. It made me realize that there are tasks I put off, fearing my own imperfections.

The book is “Daring Greatly” by Dr. Brené Brown. In it, she says perfectionism is not helpful or healthy but actually hinders performance and “keeps us outside the arena.” It’s correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction and a life of paralysis or missed opportunities.

The title of Dr. Brown’s book is taken from a 1910 speech by Theodore Roosevelt, in which he said:

“It is not the critic who counts … Credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again … but who does actually strive to do the deeds … who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

Dr. Brown discovered that people often attach their self-worth to how they’re perceived by others. We want to be seen as perfect in order to minimize feelings of shame, judgment and blame. This is incredibly unhealthy as we cannot control other people’s perceptions and, in most areas of life, perfection is simply unattainable.

A healthier mindset is “self-focused.” When we don’t get it just right, instead of negative self-speak and worrying about what others think, we can ask ourselves, “How can I do this better next time?” We can then learn, grow and move on instead of being stuck in shame.

Getting comfortable and accepting our real life stories – the messy ones riddled with imperfections – actually gives us room to flourish. When do you stand outside of the arena? Do you want to live life more fully and dare greatly? If so, check out this book for resources to use on your journey.

Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach, a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, public speaker and health activist. Contact her at jackie@thetahealth.org, or find more at thetahealth.org.