One of my “if I could turn back the clock” regrets is not keeping up my Spanish. There was a time when I was quite fluent and could converse with native speakers, but after many years of not using my language skills, I am now very, very rusty. I learned just how rusty on my recent trip to Nicaragua.

Though many people spoke at least a little English, I needed to summon up my Spanish to navigate our trip. At first, I was hesitant to speak, embarrassed by my lack of fluency and nervous that I would say the wrong word or use the wrong conjugation. I then remembered one of my favorite mantras, “Perfection is the enemy of the good,” and realized that if I wasn’t willing to be imperfect and do the best that I could in the moment, I would make our vacation much harder for everyone.

Of course, the more I interacted in Spanish and worked to improve – asking people to repeat themselves or speak a little more slowly, apologizing for my poor Spanish, using my translation book as backup – the more I became more comfortable with the language. It was yet another reminder for me that the more I am willing to pull myself out of my comfort zone, risk embarrassment or even failure, and relax into an experience, the richer and better I am for it.

My recent experience with perfectionism and fear of failure was about my speaking a foreign language, but it could easily be about willingness to ask for help, speaking in front of a large audience, or trusting someone. All these are potentially uncomfortable or risky situations, and ones that make it easy to convince myself to avoid if I’m afraid of not being (or not appearing to be) perfect.

My imperfect Spanish brought a lot of positives – appreciative smiles, friendly corrections, offers for support, patience, and fun haggling sessions while shopping for souvenirs. I find that there is almost always a positive outcome or outcomes when I’m willing to put myself out there and be OK with looking a little messy.

What are you withholding yourself from doing because you may be less than perfect? Click here to comment.

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