She burrowed underneath the bright pink comforter, pulling the princess pillow over her face as she hid her pooling tears.
“Mommy, should I join the competition team?”
Ah. This again. She loves to flip and leap, cutting cartwheels across the den, contorting her body on the trampoline, and walking the beam on planks of the hardwood floor. She loves it, but last year she stayed a level below her ability because she didn’t want to compete - didn’t want to perform in front of people. My girl loves gymnastics, but others’ judgment and watching eyes strike terror in her heart.
I wonder where she gets it.
After being encouraged again to join the competition team, she had a decision to make. Should she join and compete this year or stay where she was?
"What if I get a low score?" she whispered. Her muffled voice made its way through the pillow to my ears, and the underlying message of her question went straight to my heart. Her little-girl voice asked what my big-girl heart feels: "What if I'm not good enough?"
We all learn at an early age that standards exist. We know the target we’re aiming to meet, and we work with all our might to do what’s required. But if we fall short, then we can see ourselves as deficient. We must be lacking in some way, and we see our shortcomings as evidence that we are not good enough.
It’s a hard lesson to separate your performance from your identity.
The double-edged sword is that standards are necessary. Expectations should be given, and performances need to be evaluated. But the trouble comes when we cannot separate our performance from our worth. We evaluate ourselves based on how we do, but we are worth so much more than a score can show. We cannot be reduced to a checklist of criteria.
I have found that in my own life, the fear of not performing well enough can paralyze me. I know the standard - or invent one myself - and if it seems unreachable, then I freeze. I would rather not do something at all than not do it well enough.
My daughter feels the same burden.
The decision to compete has always been hers, and as she nestled into my side that night, I repeated softly that I couldn’t decide for her. She had to choose. I held back my tears and tried to reassure her that the experience matters more than the score. I tried to reassure her, but it’s hard to teach a lesson you’re still trying to learn yourself.
I have known this fear that paralyzes, this overwhelming anxiety that who I am and what I do will be found lacking in the eyes of those to whom I look for approval. I have spent a lifetime measuring myself against standards I’m confident I’ll never reach.
I have spent a lifetime afraid because I have looked for validation from invalid sources. Lisa Bevere reminds us, “Your eternal Father is the only one who has the right to define you.” This means my performances don’t define me, the thoughts of others don’t define me, and perhaps the greatest news of all, I don’t define myself. The disparaging thoughts and condemnations I heap on myself do not negate my worth and my value.
1 Peter 2:9 reminds us that our lives are not merely about how well we do the tasks we undertake, but are much more about Whom we declare. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
When we remember that we are chosen, royal, holy, and the Creator’s special possession, scores and performance evaluations begin to matter much less. We find confidence in Whose we are, not how we do. When we remember we are created to please only One, we find confidence to move from the fear-filled darkness “into his wonderful light.”
My daughter? She chose to compete, entirely on her own, and she reminded her mother that scared steps into the light are far more powerful than complete paralysis in the dark.
As a high school English teacher, Jennie always encouraged her students to chase their dreams. After nine years in the classroom, she recently left to chase her own dream of writing. The mom of two writes about enjoying whatever life throws your way, even if (and especially when) it isn’t what you planned. Her own unexpected journey is now her ministry, and she blogs at www.jenniegscott.com.
When she’s not braving the elements at her son’s sports practices or driving her daughter to gymnastics, she loves to run and to read what the Amazon fairy delivers! She is active in the church she helped launch, and during football season, her blood runs orange for the Clemson Tigers.