Lowering the Bar Confessions from a Recovering Perfectionist

A dear friend of mine sent me a self-help book she loved as it spoke to her on multiple levels. I read chapter after chapter in which the author, Shauna Niequest, writer, speaker, wife and mother of two worked on remaking her overly hectic life after experiencing mega burn-out.

Although I had empathy for the author, as I took in her story I could not relate to her situation. You see I am hawk-like about guarding my calendar from over-scheduling.  I pride myself on this because it’s one of the few things I did not have to learn the hard way.

About three-quarters of the way through the book, I found a chapter aimed directly at me. Yes, this one had my name on it. My author-guide talked about her incessant desire for perfection as she planned for a holiday she knew looked so much better in her mind’s eye than how the whole event would actually shake down. After much soul searching, the writer came to the conclusion she must choose, “present over perfect.”

As I read, sentences like “perfect has become as near a dirty word to me as hustle, prove, earn, complete and push,” popped up making sense. It all came to a crashing crescendo when she wrote, “Perfect and the hunt for it will ruin our lives.”

Okay, I give up. I’m guilty of trying to create the perfect this, or the perfect that, and day-after-day continually disappointing myself. When I go to bed at night and start counting my blessings, somehow the “Perfection Princess” who lives in my head starts recounting all the things that did not live up to her standards. Reading on I got some advice on how to turn my quest for perfection on it’s ear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the author professed, “It’s all about learning to show up and let ourselves be seen as we really are,” I thought wait a minute. If that means leaving the house without make-up, forget it. Not going to happen, at least not yet anyway.

Knowing I had to start somewhere, I chose entertaining. We invited another couple over for Saturday night dinner and drinks. Aha! Instead of spending hours scouring recipe books to design the perfect menu like I usually do, I opted for a simple rustic Italian dish created in the slow cooker. I really blew the lights out on dessert. Finding a cool creation on Pinterest involving store bought ice cream sandwiches and whipped cream, I put it together in under seven minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The evening went well. Simple as the menu was, my guests ate with gusto. We all relaxed and enjoyed just being together over food and wine. When dessert was served I must admit, it looked like something a 3rd grader cooked up. But guess what? I didn’t care. It provided my guests with fits of laughter and some really good bites.

So cheers to “present over perfect.” I’m getting there. If you can relate to any of this, let me know and I’ll send you the recipe.

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your comments on how you deal with perfectionism.

Three Lessons in Simplicity

The dream was so enlightening I wanted to linger in it for as long as possible. I stayed still without moving a muscle remaining connected to my dream state for a few more minutes. When I finally turned to get out of bed, I made a solemn promise to retain the lesson provided by my nighttime experience.

My fascinating dream started in a panic. I was on a flight to Paris with a group of tourists, all strangers, when I realized I’d forgotten to bring any form of currency. Now in real life that would be something I could resolve, but in this fantasy world it meant spending two weeks in the City of Lights sans money for food, essentials and souvenirs.  My head began pounding with a nasty stress headache. The thing I wanted at that moment, even more than money, was an Ibuprofen, also an item left behind.

Feeling utterly miserable I started to wonder if I died. Oscar Wilde once said, “When Americans die, they go to Paris.” Did this mean I was going to spend all of eternity in Paris without a lousy franc?

Suddenly I had a one of those light bulb moments. I would ask everyone on the plane for a small contribution to sustain me.

Gaining my courage I stood up, announced my plight to the group and walked down the aisle collecting funds from my kindhearted flight mates.

By the time we deplaned, my headache cured itself and I had enough to at least feed myself. I don’t remember much more about the dream except that I was immensely happy with very little in Paris. I enjoyed the simplicity of existing on inexpensive meals and exploring every free venue in the city.

My three takeaways from my dream flight to Paris go like this:

  • If you need help, ask for it. Don’t try to go it alone. Sure I had to swallow my pride and look like a blonde bird-brain who doesn’t have it all together, but such is life. It happens, deal with it.
  • Make the most of the moment. Whether it’s a trip to Paris, or your kid’s soccer game be mindful of where you are. No thinking about the pile of unfinished work at the office or laundry at home.
  • Someone once said, “everything is figure-out-able.” Stay with your problem until you have a plan A and a plan B. Get creative and find some sort of solution.

Wishing you sweet and insightful dreams!

Sometimes NO is the Right Answer

Enjoy the little things.

Arnie rushed into my office, suit jacket flapping behind him. As he sat down delivering a heavy sigh my client complained of schedule overload. I giggled reminding him that he was retired. In my mind, any calendar overload was self-inflicted. Shrugging his shoulders a serious look crossed his face as he checked an alert from his phone. Rolling his eyes he muttered something about a golf game.

Getting down to business, I soon understood Arnie’s problem. He developed a habit of accepting every social invitation that came along. Although this might not sound like much of a problem, it can lead to a dysfunctional lifestyle. It is sometimes dubbed the “cannot say no syndrome.” I have coached many individuals who fall into this category.

Delving deeper into why the “no” word was missing from Arnie’s vocabulary he admitted there were many times he would rather stay home with Chinese takeout and a good book. He went along because he did not want to offend anyone. I pushed back asserting the multiple polite ways to decline an invitation. It seemed to me there was more to this than a case of overly polite manners. After more discussion, it became evident Arnie’s real issue surrounded the “left behind syndrome.”

Actually his reason for going along with the crowd is not as trite as it sounds.  Social media has penetrated our lives. Sitting home alone observing the partying gang posting’s on Facebook or Instagram, can elicit feelings of being left out, but only if you let it.

Sticky note with social media on hand with blue background.

Whether you are a baby boomer, Gen X’er or millennial, hanging out with yourself should be a satisfying and enjoyable experience. Carving out time from your schedule to spend developing your creative side, going for a solitary run or sitting in silence and quieting your mind is a healthy choice. Solitude does not equate to loneliness. Developing a deep connection with yourself leads to clarity on life choices, and future goals.

About a week later Arnie returned to my office proudly announcing he canceled a social engagement, turned off his smart phone

Smartphone with Stop Sign

and spent time alone puttering in the garage with his playlist softly streaming in the background.  When I inquired how he felt about not going out, Arnie flashed a grin admitting he felt relieved. He chose to do what made him happy and realized he wasn’t bored or feeling left out. In fact, he declared, “I’m a rather cool guy to hang out with.” Agreed. Hanging with Arnie is fun.