Imperfect Progress

To this day, I can remember my first full-fledged panic attack. It was in the fall, nine years ago. I was in my senior year of college, and my world was seemingly spiraling out of control. I was trying to keep my head above water with my homework load and several presentations on the horizon, and a few good friends were going through some significant health struggles. To top everything off, I had auditioned for something called “NC/DC Extreme,” an “American Idol”-like competition to be held between my college and our rival university. My sister had also asked me to speak in one of her education classes on disability, so as a result, I was very busy and quite stressed.
My drive for perfectionism and success drove me to a very unhealthy place, and one night while riding back from Fall Break, I hyperventilated and almost passed out from panic. It was a quiet panic attack in that no one else in the car was aware of it. But my body was aware of it, for sure, and my symptoms had me worried. I stewed over my condition for nearly three days; I told myself that my rapid heart rate, clammy hands, and light-headedness would pass. But nothing changed. So I found myself in the ER.
In the end, they diagnosed me with having a prolonged panic attack. The doctor asked me that night if there was any way I could eliminate some of the stressors in my life, and I told him “no.” I was a college senior, and stress seemed to follow me at every turn. Although my recovery process put a damper on my commitments over the next few days, I managed to accomplish everything I had set out to do.
My audition for “NC/DC Extreme” was successful to the degree that I made it into the competition. On the first night of the live show, my voice was strong and I was surprisingly calm. I loved to sing, and other than the fear of forgetting lyrics, I was confident in my upcoming performance… until I became privy to a few careless comments from a fellow competitor. He began by complimenting me on my beautiful voice but ended his remarks by commenting on my blindness and the potential effect sympathy votes would play in my winning the competition overall.
I excused myself from the conversation as politely as I could, but I was mad! I had worked so hard in perfecting my music over the years, and it irritated me that someone should bring my disability into the equation. It only haunted me with my continual struggle to measure up— seeking to become more than my visual impairment. It was then that I was committed to not win that competition. I wouldn’t care about the outcome; maybe then I could prove this person wrong. My blindness would not be a factor in winning “NC/DC Extreme.”
But my mind games didn’t work. My perfectionism and drive for solid performances led to something I couldn’t take back; it wasn’t in me to back off and not care. I had to try. As a result, I found myself in the top three on finale night.
“Please don’t say my name… Please don’t say my name… Please don’t say my name…” I remember repeating in my head as they were getting ready to announce the winner. I could not win this competition! It would only solidify my competitor’s assumptions. But my repeated mantra didn’t alter the results, and I heard the deafening roar of the crowd as the announcer screamed my name: “Cassie Lokker!”
I had no choice at that moment. As soon as I could get off stage, I ran! Now, I know what you must be thinking. Maybe a blind girl shouldn’t be running, unaided without a cane. But I knew that campus well, and I high-tailed it back to my dorm room.
You know exactly what running away accomplished— NOTHING. But even so, I didn’t learn my lesson. Just a few weeks ago, I wanted to run away all over again. And it was all due to unattainable perfection. In my attempt to try to please everyone, I had committed to do something with wrong motives. In the process, I drew two other people with me. I had thought this would be the perfect way to satisfy curiosity and get the answers I needed, but my plan back-fired. In an encounter a few days later, I was questioned about the decision I had made, and I had to admit defeat. I was embarrassed that I had jumped so quickly to try to please everyone. In the end, feelings were hurt and I felt regret that I had involved trusted confidants into it as well. My drive for perfectionism had brought destruction again.
Sadly, I had come to recognize my imperfect progress in a painful way. I love this phraseology from Lysa TerKeurst. This imperfect progress is something that doesn’t always have to be so detrimental. If only I could realize that I can only try my best, and in God’s eyes, my best is really all that matters. It’s similar to what one of my confidants said when she learned of the fall-out from the incident. “What’s done is done,” she said. “We can’t take it back. We can’t change it.”
It’s so true. God created me with my drive for perfectionism. Does it get me in trouble sometimes? Absolutely! But He knows that perfection is something that the human race longs to experience. The temptation and sin that took place in the Garden of Eden robbed the earth of any semblance of perfectionism seemingly from the beginning of time. I think that’s why I and others have such a hard time trying to make things right. We long for perfection, for what can only exist now in heaven.
I will never be able to please everyone. I may never move beyond this insecurity that stems from my blindness. But I can seek to progress forward in my imperfections with the goal of pleasing the One and Only— my Savior. In the end, it doesn’t matter if I win the contest or someone has a negative attitude toward me. I can’t change any of that. But I can change my focus to something more eternal. Here’s to another day of imperfect progress.

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