Confessions from a recovering perfectionist

I begin today’s post with a raw and honest confession. I am a recovering perfectionist.

I am way less uptight than I used to be. I sometimes settle for good enough and feel satisfied. I serve cakes that have flopped and order takeout. I don’t reply as quickly to emails as I once did. And most importantly, I give myself a break.

I say recovering because my years as a perfectionist have left me, at best, with an inner standard for excellence and at worst, overly critical of myself and others. Sometimes, less often than it used to but more often than I would like, the “you are not good enough” voice finds her way right back into the chitter chatter of my mind. I had one of those days today, and as I sit here, kids tucked in, exhausted, and finally a moment to reflect, I find myself getting caught up in a dangerous thought ramble:

I didn’t get enough done today. I suck. I can’t do it all anymore. Ok wait, I have a solution, I will just do it after the kids go to bed. Oh no, I’m too tired. I’ll do it tomorrow. Maybe I never will? Then what?

You see, the danger of (having been) a perfectionist is this: When the going gets tough, the tough get going. But when the going gets tough for a perfectionist, we run ourselves down or we RUN AWAY.

Perfectionists give up. Recovering ones keep going.

Some days are a breeze and others feel like I’m trying to survive the headwinds. Aren’t we all. My years of striving to meet the never ending expectations that I have of myself have built up their own habitual responses when I feel like I am falling short. But, as I age and learn from people who are wiser than I am, I can see an alternative reality to the reactive running from my inner pain: to be willing to fall, fail, mess up and look foolish for the sake of creating a radical existence.

Controlling vs. Directing

Today I discovered that my 11-year-old is on Instagram. A gift to himself on his 11th birthday. Eleven-year olds are on Instagram? My imperfect self is learning the difference between controlling and directing. I can’t control my son away from Instagram but I can direct some rules around its use and teach him about the importance of internet privacy. I am learning to parent, friend and love with more tolerance. To create a supportive environment for myself and my loved ones to grow while allowing the outcome to unfold as it will.

If you are anything like me and have spent far too many years trying to control your body, your diet and your life, it may be time to shift gears. Imagine a world where more of us become loving leaders instead of controlling dictators at home, at work and in our own heads.

Letting go

If there were a golden ticket to freedom from perfection I think it would read: Let go.

Have you ever considered jumping ship when your standards are so high you are beating yourself down instead of rising up? Yeah, that is me sometimes. It may sound corny but I have started reciting an internal mantra when I’m feeling stressed.

LET. GO. Inhale, let. Exhale, go. It is near impossible to both do and be simultaneously. Being gives rise to vulnerability. Being actually means looking at ourselves beneath the surface.

Then what?

What would happen if there was no need to be perfect? What would be left? Underneath it all – my perfectionist, my recovering perfectionist, my controller, my striver, my doer, my pusher – there lives a woman who just really wants to matter. She wants to matter to herself. She wants to matter to her children and her family. She wants to matter to those around her. This is actually where the good stuff lives. It’s where there is space to breathe, to understand and be a bit more gentle. All of us want to be seen. All of us want to be validated. All of us want to be loved.

Each day is a chapter in the story of our lives. How blessed are we all to be given an opportunity to live and to matter.

It is no easy feat for any of us as mothers. Every day poses new challenges. The thing that keeps me going is remembering the bigger picture. Trying not to get caught up in the small stuff. As I get older and my life gets fuller, I try to tackle life’s challenges with more grace than before. See them as pieces of the puzzle. So, when I have a crazy day and find myself bumping up against that familiar rough edge of perfection, I try to remember this: What lies just beneath our fear of failure is our potential for excellence. The irony is that by gripping onto perfection we are actually hindering our progress towards extraordinary.

Paul Kalanith, who passed away on March 9th at the age of 37, wrote an inspiring reminder about the meaning of it all. His story puts things into perspective. At the end of the day, it’s not about perfection. It’s about making the precious gift of your time count. A lesson I may be learning for the rest of my life, but one that is so worth it. Please take a moment and read about his amazing legacy.

Stay motivated. Be willing to fail-often. Work hard. Make something of your life. Spend your time wisely and focus on what’s most important. Take nothing for granted. Tap into your purpose. Wake up and do it again tomorrow. With grace.

Every evening at 7:45pm I tuck the little cuties in bed. We read a book. We cuddle. We talk about our day. In an instant I am reminded of my priorities. The truth is, as stretched as my multi-roled existence feels at times, I melt every-single-time I sing lullabies with my baby in my arms.

And then, the next morning I awake at 5:00am with a hyper-commitment to create an outstanding day and make something meaningful of my life. But these days, making something meaningful also means remembering to pause long enough to enjoy life’s moments more often.

Change doesn’t take a lifetime. For all of us, the choice to break free from our pain and our fear and to live more fully can happen today.

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