Less Than Excellent

Today I was lying on my yoga mat in a 95 degree studio surrounded by amazing yogis.  These are people who can flip, contort and flex themselves into all manner of poses and inversions at will.  They baffle and amaze me.  I am not this type of yogi–I’m awkward and stilted at times, and often get stuck in poses due to very tight hips and hamstrings.  I do yoga mostly for my brain and will never be a traditionally amazing yogi.  

I was on the mat preparing for class (which means I was lying there, trying to remember to breathe and both hoping the class would start and hoping it would never start at the same time) when a phrase from my past popped into my mind that I hadn’t thought of in a long time–Less than excellent. 

Less than excellent.  I thought, this is a studio of excellence and I am less than excellent.  I let this thought wash over me without judgment, with curiosity–as yoga and meditation has taught me to do.

Twenty five years ago I went to a school of excellence, and when I became less than excellent, they asked me to leave.  Back then, mental health issues were even less directly addressed than they are now.  Though I have forgiven the school (there were ways they helped me that my adult self now understands), at the time it felt as if they were saying: we only want kids who are excellent here and this version of you–this depressed, OCD, way too sad version of you–does not belong here.

I moved through the yoga class and it was one of my best.  I felt flexible, graceful and fluid, even though I was still unable to do many of the arm balances and inversions.  As I reflected on the class and why I felt so good, I began to understand that “less than excellent” is my superpower.  

I learned a very powerful lesson all those years ago.  I did leave school and got the right support that helped me heal and understand myself at a higher level, and that experience has contributed to the success I experience today.  It led me to develop an understanding for others and their hard experiences at a deeper level.  It showed me that being less than excellent didn’t mean I had to give up, and that I won’t die from not being the best.  I became resilient, and out of all the character traits I’ve developed in my life–this is the one that I’m most proud of and serves me best.

I ended up going back to that school a few months later, stronger and still less than excellent. It wasn’t easy to face administration and teenagers who knew my story. It was kind of like that nightmare you have where you show up to school with no clothes on–it felt like everyone was staring at my insides.  And here’s what I learned: that being excellent is not the thing I need to strive for, that showing up and being the least impressive or together person in the room is ok.  I learned that none of us are excellent and that makes all of us excellent.

In business, this allows me the confidence to take necessary risks, to show up in rooms that I don’t yet belong in, to go for the thing or role I am probably not ready for.  Because I can be less than excellent, I am not afraid to fail or stumble or be vulnerable.  It allows me to show up to yoga class every day and give it my all, even if I can’t do a crow pose or a handstand.  

I’m so thankful I learned that lesson early.  Being less than excellent saved me from a lifetime of perfectionism.  There are times when I still struggle with this, of course–I like to achieve my highest goals the same as anyone else does.  Being resilient doesn’t mean I never struggle with perfectionism or disappointment–it means I don’t avoid taking risks, even though I KNOW I won’t always get what I want.  Everything that has ever meant something to me came with risks and costs, so here are two things I know for sure:  I can trust myself and my own resilience to handle whatever happens, and I certainly won’t get what I want if I don’t try.

If you resonate with my story, I’d love to hear more from you.  And if any of you reading this could use some support in building resilience and confidence, in letting go of perfectionism–we’re here for you.