“Why do you work so hard?” my friend Deb asked me the other day. “You seem like you’re in such a hurry to get somewhere.”
“I think I’m trying to get to a sense of rest,” I said. “Some place on the other side of all this hard work where I’ll feel calm.”
“But you never get there, right?” says Deb with a sinister smile.
“Um, no. There’s just more work.” Damn that Deb. She’s such a smarty pants.
Welcome to my magical to-do list that mysteriously grows longer the more tasks I cross out.
On the surface I’m a mass of kick back, unruly curls, but on the inside I’m a 7-armed goddess monster who squeezes more out of each day than is sanely possible. A woman who means to take care of her house, her kids, sell her classes, create new products, teach her classes, get to the gym, return emails, phone calls and about 1000 other things that I’m not even going to mention. It’s nutty, and I’m sorry if you feel sick just reading this. I’m even sorrier if you know this world all too well.
On top of it, if you’re like me, you’ll cop to a deep need to make everything you do perfect, bullet proof, exceptional. And while it’s not bad to want to create and deliver good things, the anxiety that accompanies this need for perfection is killing me.
So this summer I promised myself that I was going to take a break and relax. As fate would have it a juicy writing project came my way and my “free time” evaporated…poof! I kept telling myself, “as soon as this project is over I’m going to take a real summer vacation.” Finally the project ended, I took a few short breaths, and within days I was stressed out again.
“Holy shit,” I realized, ” I’m a stress manufacturing machine. I traffic in this stuff. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in my life; everything feels like a 7-alarm fire.”
I come by this insanity honestly. Suzy Marks, my Mother, is a woman who can still throw a dinner party for 50 all by herself; the fabulous meal, the hand written place cards, the table settings, the flower arrangements and the clean house. 10 minutes before the guests arrive, she’ll be squatting down at the oven door in her tennis outfit (yes, she manages to get in a game of tennis), sneaking a peek at the crispy bird inside. Then, after the first round of drinks, she’ll magically drift into the living room with a smile, wearing some gorgeous outfit, her hair, lipstick and eye-liner perfect. We marvel at her. How does she do it?
Suzy often tells me how proud she is of me, and even asks, “How do you do it?” Oh Mama, you don’t want to know!
The trouble is, the older I’ve gotten, the less able I am to work this hard, and the more I notice I’m not having very much fun.
Learning to Make Mistakes
I’d like to say that I know something about making mistakes, but I don’t. Of course I make many of them, but they’re very uncomfortable because they reveal my clunky side, that part of me I work so hard to keep at bay. But the other night I heard a radio interview with Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, and The Gifts of Imperfection. Brene says making mistakes are important, especially if you’re a person like me who creates things.
“To create,” she says, “is to make something that has never existed before, and that is all about vulnerability, so failure needs to be an option.”
Apparently, Brene and I are separated at birth, because before she started practicing mistake making she was just like me. She’d think, “I’m going to go in there and kick some ass just as soon as I’m bullet proof and perfect.”
“But you never get there,” she says. “And even if you achieve it, that’s not what people want to see.” True that! Nobody wants to hang out with someone who doesn’t miss a beat, who seems to fly through the air with the greatest of ease, every hair in place, every souffle a hot cheesy delight. Plus, she says, you can’t connect with those people.
The funny thing is, all this hard work to make good things happen seems to be in the service of connection. Or is it? Maybe it has nothing to do with other people. I’m not sure. All I know is that I want my cake and eat it too. I like going the extra mile and making things special; having flowers on the table, making the cookies for the retreat instead of buying them, or spending the extra time making homemade chai tea for guests because it makes the house smell good and everyone appreciates it. There are so many good things about being somebody who puts 110% into what she does. Except the stress.
What I want to ask Brene is, can you be fabulous, but without stress? And what does that look like? I know we’re all supposed to be down with “making mistakes” and showing up messy – holy shit – I teach that – but I’m still struggling – maybe not so much on the page, but in life.
What about you? Where do you honestly weigh in on this subject? I’d love to know! Inspire me!
The first book I read in my “life-rehab” that started almost two years ago was Brene’s “Gifts of Imperfection.” Have you read it? I saw myself in that book, hiding in the binding, in the shadows of the lines of text, in the funny stories she told about the times she was a glorious mess and got things so wrong. Over time what I have realized is four things (more than that, but these are the ones that seem relevant): 1. I am a passionate mess, whether I hide it or show it, that is the truth of me, and as the truth of me, that’s what matters, it’s what I have to offer, it’s the magic and the medicine, the light and the shadow. 2. I have to start where I am, where I really am, not when I’m perfect, not when I’m ready, but here and now, it’s where the good stuff lives. 3. The pushing and pulling, the pressure isn’t sustainable, and I am getting older and slower, so out of necessity, I’m having to figure out another way. 4. What I create out that involves any aggression towards myself is an act of aggression towards those who receive it, even if neither of us realize it at the time, it plants seeds whose dna is wired for destruction and yuck. 5. (this is a bonus one) I don’t know that the f I’m talking about, ever. Don’t listen to me. Oh, and I love you (listen to that).
jilly…you said so many good and wise things here. And…I read the book you sent me…And…I’m glad you’re my friend and that you’re on the path and doing the work, And…I appreciate everything you wrote here. I am listening. Love L
Holy Shit is right! I positively believe we ALL teach what we need to learn and some of it changes over time. I too an an chronic over-doer and mistake avoider. I love hearing the applause of your adoring fans (golf clap). I say “more please!” Over-doers know how to take it to a whole ‘nother level and how to make it look soooo easy. But the over-doer knows it’s not easy and extracts a hefty price often our joy. My healing involves becoming REALLY aware of where the line is and when I’m about to step over it. Right now, most times I still step over it but I acknowledge it, name it out loud (is this the place I’m about to shift into over-do?) and sometimes I even manage hear my inner ENOUGH and pull myself back which feels AMAZING (once you get used to it). Mine may be about making ME feel like I’m ENOUGH minus any performance. I’m working on it “one toe over the line” at a time. BTW, I love Brene Brown’s wisdom and humanity. Her TED talk on SHAME is amazing, too! Love your truth-telling and you probably can’t even begin to know the people you touch every day with sometimes even a word, sentence, or paragraph that validates their feelings, too! No perfection requiired!!! Kick back and put your feet up. We are changing the world, one mistake at a time. Isn’t that a relief!
Caren…love everything you wrote here. Glad to connect with another sister. What I’d like to become better at noticing is when I get that tight feeling in my tummy – like – I’m about to say yes to something I should’t, or there’s an opportunity to tell the truth about something but the truth also involves saying no and I have this chance to really free myself by telling this truth, but instead I water it down with a little bit of no and still too much yes. Every time I say yes when I mean no it bites me in the ass. I want to catch this stuff much sooner! Thank you for reading!
Now, I’m embracing how many typing mistakes I made in my response. No need to wish it was perfect, I’m changing the world! ;-)!
Perfect post to read on back to school week… No extra feelings of needing to be perfect & do it all perfectly then! Ha!
My friend Sherry and I want to start a movement to lower the bar! Easier said than done, but we clearly need each other to make it happen!
I’ve been working on the feeling of fabulousness rather than the what-it-looks like/what used to be/what I thought would be the big pleasers type of ‘fabulous’. Doing some spiritual practice (yoga & chanting in this camp) daily, no matter what/how much, and a daily 20-minute-or less (to avoid the grog monster) nap, helps me hear my best self more clearly…all an ongoing process and all requiring some unplugging!
unplugging, naps, more quiet time…this sounds good. Thank you for sharing with me…all so helpful.
What a blessing for me today. I made a huge mistake- hired the wrong person, ignored the red flags, launched something to my customers this morning that was totally screwed up even though I tested it all, and took my anger out on my family.
Your post made me smile and my son wants to go get ice cream. Is this redemption?
Laurie! So great to be in confession… oops, I mean “dialogue” with you all about this!!! I keep looking at my husband saying ~he~ needs to get a sitting meditation practice, so that in the midst of all this craziness he can back off from his stressed out attitude and be At Peace.
And then yesterday I end up quietly sobbing in my car, trying to hold back the flood of my own stress and worry, and feeling so fundamentally flawed for being such a lone ranger about all that I’m trying to generate in this world and for not being calm and empowered in all the business and generation. I am so focused on leading my projects and visions powerfully in the world, all while my own inner dialogue is often sheer blame and poison.
So this week, my biggest intention is to love myself. To notice when I feel overwhelmed and offer myself out-loud words of encouragement, acknowledgement, and self love. I’m giving myself some toddler parenting. I’ve been practicing reaching out to friends when I’m needing help with parts of my projects, which not only helps me practically but brings me joy in connections. And I’m practicing accepting this “it’s-about-the-journey” line, acknowledging the bigger goals I have but giving myself daily moments of prayer, surrender, and acknowledgment for even the smallest accomplishments.
As I share my vulnerability, and the feelings of shame I have for not being bigger, better, faster, it’s amazing to watch THAT take the stress off my husband and create more relatedness. I thought was he needed was his meditation and my money. sigh. The lessons are good.
Thanks for sending me this this morning, helping me remember and connect right now, and giving me an inspiration to face my tasks today…
Amy, Amy, Amy…my goodness girl – thank you for this. Wow. Big fucking honest share here. Love it. Appreciate it, feel totally more connected…can feel the grief and the relief of this for you – for me. I had no idea you read my blog – am grateful for the connection – let’s walk off the stress soooooooon! TOgether! xxx
My Dearest Cuzin,
We would still love you even if you served store-bought cookies.
We would still love you even if you didn’t write, altho we would miss your wit and style.
We would still love you even if you didn’t teach, altho we all would suffer.
You’re perfect just as you are – but your really know that anyway, right?
Oh, and about your mom, whom I adore inspite of her perfectionist needs, spent how many years in therapy?
She’s still in therapy baby – like 20 years later – but thank god, right? I love your words and your love and I will see if I can just do what I can do and be mindful for when I’m stressing or going bonky…that can’t help anyone, especially me. I miss you cuz! xxx
Yep. I know this so well! Especially now that I am taking real steps (as opposed to day dreaming about them) to put my work out in the world and still discovering what that work actually is. I’ve been on the road to making friends, true blue best most loving compassionate friends, with myself. Really paying attention to what I need, paying attention when I screw up with more compassion and curiosity rather than judgement and punishment. Some days this is getting easier, other days not so much. They key for me on those “not-so-much” days is extending compassion to myself – it’s key for me because if I don’t the whole making best friends with myself just turns into another project that I think I can do perfectly (which I can’t) and I end up anxious and stressed out!
Kim – i get it, i get it. Sounds like you are putting yourself first, but not as a project, more as a friendly gesture of kindness. I can feel softness in your words…and that’s a lot. I appreciate you getting in touch. All these words are so loving and they help. Thank you!
So many words have been written about being in the “now”. That right now is perfect, and to be bonded to it is to have peace. Easier said/written than done, right? How many to-dos are done while thinking of the next thing to do? How many moments of relaxation are actually opportunities to plan for tomorrow or rue yesterday’s mistakes (or revel in yesterdays delight)? Where is the peace in perfection? In the yeo-person’s work of doing it all, being it all, having it all? I suppose its in the elusive inner path of mindful awareness of right now – that the grass you’re walking on feels just so (take off your shoes…when’s the last time I did THAT???), the writing of the list, of these words, the pooling of the car, the making of the dinner, the sitting at the desk. The ALL OF IT, being fully embraced and focused upon at every second. I think that’s why I play music – because its one of only two times in my life (can you guess the other?) that I am, if doing it “right:”, lost in the moment, not thinking of ANYTHING else, truly not stuck in tomorrow or yesterday.
Ahhh, to be able to live it all like that. Not quite, not yet.
jeff – it’s a practice for all of us. Thanks for reading the blog – it’s good to share it with you. I know we’re all in this together!
I appreciate your work very much…
i read a printout of your email the other eve on my way to powell’s here in portland to hear mark epstien read from his new book, The Trauma of Everyday Life. at the reading something he said struck me and i thought instantly of you and your words.
it was of his being in india and his teacher’s teacher pulling a dirty aluminum pot wrapped in an old scrap of cloth out of the back of a cupboard & saying it contained the biggest lesson his teacher had ever taught him. he kept saying to mark, who had a very confused look on his face, “don’t you see?”
“no, no”, i don’t he replied again and again.
finally, the sadhu offered with a smile “you don’t have to shine.”
a wide smile spread across my face. and a silent hallelujah resonated within me.
i share along with you!!!
Polly – i love this! Thank you! So simple, so easy to remember! Thank you!
Yes, how perfect is that…’you don’t have to shine’…I think I’m looking for someone here at work to tell me how ‘shiney’ I am. That the work I’m doing is making this place shine and makes my business successful. Really, it’s just me, sitting in a hand me down chair, a recycled keyboard, and my radio quietly humming, doing my best to make the decisions that need to be made. And when I get called out for leaving work behind, then that’s the wake up call that yes, you’re not perfect and there are things you don’t do well…but for all the things you do do well you are a success. Every day that you provide answers, or feedback or direction you are a success. Every day in little steps with every bump and tumble, you become well seasoned and know a litte more today than you did yesterday. We have to remember the goodness in ourselves and that those mistakes make us better than the day before. And to look for the inspiration to remind us of the simple perfection of us simply being us. I was looking for this inspiration Laurie, I was sure I could find it in your writing. Thank you and much love, Alice
Oh yes. I can relate. Chronic and recovering over achiever here and no matter how hard I try, I keep falling back into the same patterns. I built a whole new career just to hold myself accountable for “ease.” Fortunately, my body says, “No” when I head in the perfection direction so I also have THAT reminder. Oh, THAT. Nothing like an adrenal wake up call to keep one pointed in the right direction. I’m sure this will be a lifelong journey, more like a life lesson, yes? I’m grateful I’m not alone, here.
P.S. I look forward to the homemade cookies.
Ha ha! The homemade cookies! Nice to hear from you Sue Ann. We’re just fellow travelers along the path; mirroring, supporting, hopefully laughing – oh god yes – laughing! xxx