“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!