Welcome to Day 15 of “30 Days of Brené Brown.”
Here is the quote:
“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
I was coming back from the private yoga lessons I give yesterday, completely unaware of the quotes until I write about them. I was thinking in the car that lots of people have these thoughts of inadequacy and not-good-enoughism. It’s almost an epidemic.
Then I came home and I saw myself in the mirror. I sneered at my thighs.
So then I started to reverse the self-talk.
“I love you thighs. I am grateful for your strength and your power. You hold me up, you help me run…” all that shit.
I say “shit” because I didn’t really believe it at the time I reversed. I just knew, rather than felt, through the woo-woo literature I read that our bodies absorb our self-talk. As how a plant hears us talk to it, our legs, arms, chins, face, skin, hands … all of it, they “hear” us and that negative energy can become toxic. It can actually mess us up to the point where we’d be grateful for the issues we had before.
So then I thought a moment and determined that changing course so abruptly and perhaps impulsively isn’t the healthiest; that repressing or suppressing or silencing that essence of dissatisfaction isn’t so hot either.
I don’t want us all running around and being pissed at ourselves, but I do think that a measure of ambition (not dissatisfaction, and that’s not just spin, my changing the two) is good for us.
There is nothing wrong with wanting better or different — AS LONG AS IT’S HEALTHY and REALISTIC. However, in the meantime, we need to dial back on the bad juju we’re throwing at ourselves or else we won’t be able to achieve the steps it takes to realize that ambition. For example: if I speak nasty to my thighs, eventually they won’t want to run for me, and then what good is that?!
If what life is giving us is dissatisfying, it is UP TO US to change it. Expecting the world to bring us a solution is utter piffle. Our goals should be reasonable and achieved in steps.
Back to Brown: “Research shows…” I hate that. Just start with what you’re going to say. If you don’t give me hard stats, it’s all noise.
The point she eventually makes is yes: perfectionism hampers success. Totally. How many times have I gotten waylaid because I wanted things to be Just So? If the Wright brothers had waited until their prototype was Just Perfect, we’d still be trying to walk to Greece.
Perfectionism is a myth and as far as I’m concerned, it sucks the fun out of everything. Screw “success.”
Do you have moments in your life when you’d pursued perfectionism like a dog on a hunt and it slowed down everything?
Case in point: that post I wrote Saturday, about courage with John Wayne references, took me FIVE HOURS. I got pissed at Brown because I accused her of not being a good writer. (My jury is still out.) But I got so wrapped around that axle that I missed the point in my personal account to drive the point home. When did I get that point? Literally: at the end. But I was so vexed and focused on making her quote work that I got lost.
NEVER will I spend five hours on a blog post analysis of someone else’s work. Nope. So I’m giving myself up to three hours max, including illustration time, to figure it out. Sometimes all I need is an hour.
A personal story (yes, again): One year, my neighbor dared to violate our neighborhood covenants had a patch of >horrors!< clover in her flawed, not 100% fescue front yard. I allowed myself to walk upon it in broad daylight when anyone could’ve seen me and found a 4-leaf clover amongst the clover masses. I plucked it (because why not?) and gave it to the first person I saw. I’m like that. I believe that my luck was assured: I’d found the clover, so it was time to share it. Truth: I gave it to a sweet little Asian woman who looked at me curiously and smiled in a way as if to say, “What the hell? Why are you giving me this weed?” Clearly, I’d surmised, she’d never been to an Irish pub.
On the walk home from school that day, I told my kids about the clover and they wanted to see the patch. They ran down to it and squatted down the way little kids do and scanned and scanned and scanned the patch. This went on for about an hour and a half. I sat with them and helped them a little. We found a couple, but each clover made them want to find more.
In the background, neighborhood kids were playing tag, and then they had some popsicles, and then they played with the sprinkler and then they laid on their towels in the late afternoon June sun.
Aware of the irony, every few moments, I asked my boys, “Don’t you want to go play? Listen to your friends — they’re having a blast! The clovers will always be here…” (not if our lawn fascists had any say…)
“No, we want to keep looking. We want to find them all.” They agreed.
After a little while, the mirth in the background lowered and the other kids went in their homes. My boys gave up looking and when they stood up, they saw that no one was out anymore.
“Where’d everybody go?” my youngest asked, his strawberry hair was matted and his cheeks were rosy from keeping his face down seeking.
“I could use a popsicle,” said my older son.
“Everyone went inside. They were done playing. They sure had a good time, look at all that chalk and all those puddles!” I said.
“It looks like we didn’t have such good luck after all,” said my older son.
“Yeah. We spent our luck looking…” I said.
“Instead of playing,” said the younger.
This is an important lesson to learn from the smallest of teachers who are often the wisest. Kids are so unfiltered and they see the balance of things. I ask my kids about my writing a book, about this blog and whether it’s of any value.
You know what they say?
“If it makes you happy and it helps just one person out there, then it’s a success. You just need to be happy and believe that.”
Worrying about whether what we’re doing is going to appeal to the masses is absurd. There are 7 billion people on this planet — get with the program — you’re bound to not appeal to one or two of them. Will that crush you? Will that mean you just throw in the towel before you even dip your toe?
“Life paralysis”: Feeling stuck. That can stop the best of sailboats. That can undo the strongest of plans. Yeah — ya gotta keep going. You just do, regardless of how it tastes or looks or feels. I’m in the middle of about 40 pages of my memoir and none of it is stringing together. None of the content seems to make any sense.
I was afraid that I’d never be able to recall anything or that my memories would be warped because of the fact that you are told you are an unreliable source when you grow up in the kind of world I did.
To this fear, this feeling of paralysis, my angel healer said, “Just start. once you start writing, one memory will spawn another and another will be spawned from that and they will all be true and then you’ll be at a point where you’ll be typing but you’ll need to record an incoming thought and so you’ll get out a pen and paper and that thought will go there… just get it down.” She’s totally right. I’ve got four notebooks stationed and ready all over the house.
We do diminish our odds of success and we do rob ourselves of time, the only resource we will never recover, when we chase perfectionism. I can’t worry about whether my messages reach everyone; I just have to believe they will reach the right people.
Same goes for you.
It’s OK to not have all the answers.
It’s OK to get input from others.
It’s OK to rely on yourself.
It’s OK to need a hand.
It’s OK to step away for a bit: some of the best inventions and discoveries happened when they weren’t intended.
I want to be a part of THAT amazing and fortuitous irony.
Be ambitious, lay out plans and have goals! Absolutely! Just remember to have fun. Just remember that the clovers will always be there and that sometimes, you’re not supposed to find them all in one session.