Recently I attended the BELONG Tour with a group of women from The River. I feel like I’m going to be mulling over that weekend for a while. The stories shared from the stage and the murmured amens and hallelujahs from women across the stadium spoke to something deep within me.
My fears of being inadequate, of never measuring up, of being the only one who hasn’t figured my life out are not something I will grow out of. They are not unique to me, and may, perhaps, be universal.
Each speaker shared about her own journey of learning to stop comparing, striving, worrying, and trying to figure out how to be “normal.” The hilarious Patsy Clairmont reminded us: normal is just a setting on the dryer.
I don’t know about you, but I spend far too much trying to achieve “normal.” Trying to figure out how to be a good friend, co-worker, student, daughter, sister, roommate, and mentor. Wondering how people have decided my opinions and decisions are worthy of trust and being constantly afraid that I will let someone down.
Somewhere along the way that fear of letting people down turned into paralyzing perfectionism. It is exhausting. The critical voice I cannot escape is mine.
Over the summer, I started working as an office manager for a small tutoring company. I saw a lot of potential for growth as I helped build out this new business. But I soon realized the company was in a much earlier start-up stage than my employer had let on in the interview.
I continued to stick it out, entering a vicious cycle in which things would frustrate me, I’d chastise myself because I had known what I was signing up for, I wouldn’t give my employer feedback, and then things would stay the same. Or I would tell myself that this was great character-building. I needed the practice of managing up because I had been so terrible at it in my old nonprofit job.
When I started my part-time role as Children’s Ministry Assistant at The River just over a month ago, I decided to stay in this office manager job as well. My friends could not figure out why.
“Is it the money? Will you not make enough with your new job?” they asked.
“It’s a little less, but no, that’s not why….” I replied.
“Well, what is it then?”
“I don’t like giving up on things.”
“That’s not a good enough reason, Deborah.”
But to me it was. I don’t give up on things. Sometimes it’s because I want to believe change is always possible.
But I’m starting to realize that perhaps I don’t give up simply because I don’t want to be wrong. I don’t want to have been wrong to choose this job in the first place, to have continued staying when the warning bells were going off. If I made the wrong choice in this, what else could I be wrong about? Why should anyone trust me? Why should I trust myself?
It is a quick and dangerous spiral.
The morning before the BELONG Tour, I had swallowed my pride and told my employer how unsuccessful I felt all the time. I admitted I didn’t know what to do about it.
The answer was glaringly obvious. It was time to walk away.
But I couldn’t do it.
And then speaker after speaker at the BELONG Tour spoke about the importance of taking risks. Their encouragements—though at the time they felt more like truth bombs—hit me like crashing waves:
- “We have to risk not doing everything perfectly or we will never do anything at all.” -Patsy Clairmont
- “God is in charge of outcomes. You are in charge of obedience. Do the next right thing. You do not need to know the end game. Failure is not a big enough reason to be afraid.” - Jen Hatmaker
- “Stop saying yes to performance, competing, and anxiety. And start saying yes to love, to risk to showing up.” - Shauna Niequist
- “Do it afraid.” - Sharon Irving
I had left my previous nonprofit job without a plan and a lot of questions about the right outlet for my gifts and passions. Now find myself back in what I would consider my sweet spot, investing in the lives of children and their families. But I needed a couple hard nudges from God to make me realize I should apply for The River job in the first place.
Despite my many fears, God has shown me this year that his plans are bigger than my own. He is a good, good Father who loves me beyond measure and has good in store for me. God is so much smarter than I am.
One thing he has made clear to me in this season is that I need to protect the margin in my life. This wasn’t easy when I was juggling grad school and two part-time jobs.
God is in charge of outcomes. You are in charge of obedience.
This past week, I stopped dragging my feet and gave two weeks’ notice at my office manager job. I stopped being ruled by the fear of my employer’s response, or the fear of appearing to be irresponsible or a failure.
I felt relief almost immediately.
As the BELONG speakers reminded me, that burden of fear and perfectionism is never what God wanted for me. I am thankful for these reminders from such women of God.
I also know now this is not just a season I need to weather. It’s a journey I’ll be on for a while. I’m glad to know there are others on this journey with me.
Deborah Woo has been attending The River since 2014. She is a Bay Area native who grew up attending First Covenant Church Oakland, and has a bachelors in psychology from Azusa Pacific University. Deborah moved to San Jose to work for the nonprofit City Year, where she spent six years providing interventions and after-school programming for students in East San Jose, and professional development for AmeriCorps volunteers. She is working on an Organizational Leadership masters degree through Northeastern University Online and joined The River staff team as Children's Ministry Assistant in fall 2016. She finds great joy in seeing the world and faith through the eyes of the youngest members of our wonderful community.