It’s been almost a year since I wrote. A year.
Part of me was fearful that I didn’t have the right words to say, the right story to share, or moments exciting or glamorous enough to entice people to read my words. We live in a world where people push us into believing “you can do anything,” but instead we hear, “you have to do everything.” It is because of this that we tell ourselves lies. My lie was that I wasn’t interesting enough to share my story because it wasn’t penned by someone with a current title or authority.
Perfectionist. For the past year, this word has slowly written itself all over my skin and seeped so deeply that it completely overtook the entirety of my soul. From the time I was young, I fought to get everything right. I strived to do more, to be more, to please everyone, it was always one more. I can even recall a time where I forgot my homework at school and I was so hard on myself that I actually ran up to the bus driver, with tears in my eyes, asking him to turn around so I could get my homework, in true Cierra fashion(circa 3rd grade). I think back to multiple moments of panic, like that one, when I just couldn’t hit my mark or do something right and it sometimes still fills me with terror. I overanalyze everything – well maybe if I did this, maybe if I said that, things would’ve been different, I would’ve won, I would’ve gotten that job, we wouldn’t have gotten into that argument, etc., while in the back of my mind I reminisce on how some life-altering opportunities have happened because I chose not to overanalyze and jumped before I was ready. It’s a dizzying dance I do with myself. My life has been defined by leaps of faith. I didn’t necessarily know what was going to happen, but I dove into things headfirst.
Perfectionism shouldn’t be paralyzing.
A lot has happened in this past year. I graduated from college, closed the chapter on my five year pageant journey, packed my bags and moved to a new city, started graduate school, started a new job, and accepted two new internships which have opened incredible doors. This past year has brought reflection, internal conflict, and exploration. It has also brought me in a relationship closer to God and helped me to re-establish the connection with the man upstairs to leave my anxieties and woes with something much larger than I. For the first time in my life, I’ve had to look my fears square in the eye and face up to them.
During my prep for Miss America, one of the best pieces of advice I received was, “To me, you come off as someone who has experienced loss or hurt and you carry this weight with you. You put on a front of strength because you’ve had to be strong for so long. Use whatever is weighing you down and let it free you by speaking on it while you’re in a position as this one.” This smacked me in the face like a bag of bricks. I spent that year using my life story as a syllabus to convey the message that anyone, regardless of background and adversity, could become the very thing they always dreamed of, but never could see themselves as.
Sometimes we craft the syllabus, deliver the lesson, yet never comprehend what we are teaching.
I was giving speeches to rooms full of people and being interviewed by countless media outlets, talking about the very things that I was afraid of – my lack of relationship with my father, my experience with sexual assault, my difficulties in growing up as a first-generation college student. I told these stories so many times that I became numb to their reality and didn’t actually have the time to process that it was not within my perfectionist complex to speak about my flaws. I didn’t let my perfectionism paralyze me from telling a story that needed to be heard, but it is now something I have to grapple with on a daily basis. I had memorized my life goals and plans to be recited effortlessly on a whim, but I still ask myself if that’s a lie a told myself that my perfectionist complex conjured up to make it appear that I had it all together.
By the end of my year of service, I was exhausted. Truly, deeply, and fulfillingly exhausted. I left with empty hands and an open heart, but now it was time to actually process what it all meant. When anyone would ask me, “So how do you really feel about ending this chapter of your life?” I found myself repeating the sentiment, “I lost myself in the process and I’m really excited to find out who I am again.” I thought that it would be easy, but it wasn’t.
I felt completely out-of-place at GW when I first moved. I packed all my belongings into my small four door, and drove to DC with the intention to start fresh in a new environment, in an effort to finally figure out who I was meant to be. I didn’t see myself or my experience reflected in the demographic of the university and at 22, still felt completely lost in a sea of strangers. I was frustrated with myself, thinking I hadn’t made the right decision. I felt like I didn’t fit in. I felt incredibly alone. I was stuck in a place where I was riding the train, with no light at the end of the tunnel, no destination to be reached by simply being patient.
With a lot of reflection and a lot of prayer, I came to recognize the strengths in my story and how God was working through my life by making me uncomfortable. With uncomfortability comes a new understanding of growth. With my new job, I realized there was a true calling for me to interact with college students who also could not find their place. As I was having conversations with residents about diversity, I learned that many didn’t know how to have those difficult conversations to learn more about others’ experiences, and part of my purpose was to facilitate those safe spaces where students could come unpack their stories. I was afraid to share that part of my story because I left a place where people still come to me for life advice – yet most of the time, I have no idea what the heck I’m doing myself. This move, this new chapter hasn’t been glamorous and perfect, but that’s what makes it all part of the story.
I’m still trying to find myself in this mess we call life. I believe we are in a state of constant reevaluation. Does a friendship/relationship no longer challenge you to grow? Does your work not fulfill you and excite you enough to jump out of bed every morning? Do you feel like you’re floating through life just trying to ‘make it’? Then, you have to reevaluate. What fills me is knowing that God, or any higher power you believe in, decided that He needed one of me on this Earth and my purpose is much greater than I. Maybe the purpose is to not be perfect, but more importantly, to not let my imperfections paralyze me from taking chances – whether that be starting this blog again, auditioning for a dance team, reading 100 books in a year, or starting a small business. My girl Alicia(Keys, that is), once sang, “I may not be perfect, but at least now I’m brave.” Even if I make mistakes, or my story isn’t perfect, I should at least stop telling myself lies and get to it ’cause there ‘ain’t nothing to it, but to do it.‘
When I finally got back into a dance class, my instructor said to the class “Don’t worry about perfecting the steps, it’s all about feeling and loving the movement.” I’m here to learn to feel and love the movement, even when it hurts, even when my body aches, even when I can’t seem to get out of bed – and I hope you are, too. Stop letting perfection paralyze you from fulfilling your purpose.