Asking the Questions

I didn’t know I was a perfectionist until I met my husband.

Up to that point, I had always thought of perfectionists as being more OCD: they didn’t let things go until they were perfect, things always had to be lined up exactly at the right angle, the outcome had to be exactly what they envisioned.

I’m not OCD, but I certainly don’t try things if I think I’m going to fail at them. I don’t put myself out there to be vulnerable, I sit and wait to say something until I think I have the credibility to add to a conversation, and then I feel anxious after I say it because I’m concerned that I look stupid, uninformed, or that my opinion doesn’t matter.

When I started dating my husband, he would get really irritated with me because I wouldn’t ask questions about things I didn’t know. I’d ask conversational questions about how his day was going, general knowledge questions about his job, where he grew up, etc., but if he said something that I had little to no knowledge of or opinion on, I would fake it until the conversation went somewhere else. Eventually, he pointed out that I never asked about things I didn’t know, that I wouldn’t even admit that I didn’t know them.

Up until that point, I had a general idea that I would fake-it-till-I-made-it on topics I didn’t understand, but it wasn’t a conscious decision for me. I don’t like it when I feel stupid, I don’t like the vulnerable feeling of not knowing something, of not being a semi-expert or being informed on a little bit of everything, and I realized after my consciousness was brought to it that it was due to my perfectionism. My fear of failure (due to high self-expectations) kept me from engaging in conversations that could probably have helped me learn more and become more informed.

Now I try hard to ask when I don’t know what someone’s talking about, but I still get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I have to do it. It’s still very difficult and nerve-wracking, but so far I haven’t regretted asking any questions. I still have a habit of resisting the question, though, and I find that more often I regret it when I pretend to know something than when I overcome my fear and admit I don’t know something.

An added bonus to this discovery is also that conversations generally go deeper and are more fulfilling when I ask questions because people want to talk: me asking about something I don’t understand gives them an opportunity to feel affirmed and excited to tell me something new. Instead of judging me like I always feared people would, I found that they are more excited to talk to me because I am able to make them feel important and smart, just like I always want to feel, too. When I ask questions of other people, they are also more likely to ask me questions in return, it’s a symbiotic relationship that I didn’t know I was missing.

It’s still a struggle, and it probably will be for a long time, but I’m very thankful to my husband for challenging me to grow in this way (although at the time I definitely wasn’t happy about it). It was the first step on my road to recovering-perfectionist, and it sparked the awareness to begin this journey towards action instead of anxiety and not let fear stop me from pursuing my goals.

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