Learning To Be Good Enough

cenotes

The Yucutan cenotes: one of my happy places.

Whether kin of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon or media-bandwagon-hopping, I am seeing it discussed everywhere lately, from the Times parenting blog to Fast Company. . .  it’s apparently Winter 2015’s “introverts and lumbersexuals”:

Perfectionism.

I wish I could say I am a reformed perfectionist. Unfortunately I am an active perfectionist. I know that it’s “not necessarily a personality trait to aspire to” as Terri Cole points out in last week’s HuffPost Canada article. I am working on it.

A former boss of mine had a sign that read “perfect is the enemy of done.”

This, too, I know (though can any writer or editor ever truly reconcile the two?)

I grew up with a parent who never even asked what my grades were, although diligence in all things was certainly expected. I was the one who felt absolutely crushed at not attaining the A. Truth be told, anything less than A+ is disappointing (which made college’s omission of this option rather tragic for me). Interestingly, I often expect, require, and desire the accolades even if I haven’t worked particularly hard for something. My mother will tell you that this is because everything “came easily to me.” (Which is certainly not true of sports, which I dreamed day and night of being a star in).

Perfectionism creates a deep fear of trying things we might not be good at, or alternatively a deep conviction that we’re just not good enough at what we’re trying. Either condition is ripe for creating crippling anxiety. (And in the case of sports, an additional vicious cycle of inactivity and weight gain).

I can trace some of my perfectionism to having an older brother who was practically worshipped in my family, who was good at literally everything he ever tried. He won a creative writing prize at college with his first short story. His art was entered into shows in school. His poetry was good. As a teenager. In his second language. He was an athletic star in every sport but basketball (he being only five foot three), a talented musician, a brilliant orator and debater.

I am still not sure how I am supposed to live up to that.

Especially, you see, as he died young. And everyone knows that the pedestal grows even higher for those we have lost.

I felt for a long time that since he was my mother’s favorite it would have been so much better were I the one to go. Which is a heavy burden for a child, I suppose. Part of me thought that if I was smart enough and talented enough I could somehow make her as proud and heal some part of that devastating wound. But I rebelled and rejected her, too, perhaps so fearful of not being perfect that I might as well go ahead and be the worst.

When I finally graduated from BU after sixteen years of night school, although I’m not one for gowns and caps and all of that jazz, I was excited to walk across that stage and have them say “magna cum laude.” So my mother could hear it. Two B’s in my entire college career, Ma! At a renowned university! (Where, may I toot my horn, it is apparently harder to get an A than most places!)

The Dean stumbled over my difficult name and missed the honors section of the card, apparently. There was no announcement. My boyfriend, knowing how much I’d been looking forward to my mother hearing the news, turned to her and explained what had happened.

“Well, of course Desiree got honors,” she scoffed.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I cannot identify myself by how excellent my grades are, or how many accolades I get at work for a job well done, right now. I have to find other ways to measure my own success, and perhaps this has given me the freedom to be good enough. I promised myself I would volunteer when I got laid off, and I did, for over a year for a local parks organization I love. I was proud of myself for following through, for doing something meaningful, for working to improve my skills during the lay-off period. Then my boss retired, and I had to spend several weeks caring for my (other) brother who had been in a bad accident and then helping my mother who had her hip replaced, so I resigned. I accomplished what I set out to do, and I will find another organization to donate my efforts to, but it was enough for now.

Even if I haven’t found a new job yet, the right one is out there for me and I will keep looking. I’m not worthless because I don’t have full-time work. I have found my own “worth” again, in being a better mother and sister and daughter and partner, in making music and in writing, and I will find a way to balance those things and cobble together some kind of income. I am learning that I don’t have to be perfect. I can be good enough, which is a much happier place to be.

Sisterhood Of The Cluttered Vanity

I am a naturally messy person. I diligently intend to cultivate the habits of neat people, and when they are as simple as making the bed, sometimes I even succeed with some regularity:

(Painting by Nathalie Mermet-Grandfille)

(Painting by Nathalie Mermet-Grandfille)

Being a Virgo (and I do go in for that sort of thing), I really prefer organization. I actually love organization. I could marry it. Perfectly aligned outlines, and color-coordinated Post-It flags, lists and containers with labels, and generous amounts of clear space for the eye to rest. . .

. . . So I am constantly at odds with myself. (It’s an excellent internal environment for breeding anxiety, in case you are interested in the mechanics of that sort of thing.)

While I wouldn’t say I “enjoy” cleaning like the (possibly questionably sane) folks who say it’s “therapeutic,” but finding a place for everything and putting the things in those places does provide me deep satisfaction. It also provides me deep guilt. (Hey, there’s a great new dartboard movie title; maybe a Catholic Church piece?)

When I have successfully arranged my possessions into like groups in a frenzy of de-cluttering, I am confronted with some profound questions:

-How does a person own two tu-tus and not know about it? How could it be it that both of those tu-tus are purple?

-Why have I wasted a zillion and a half dollars buying twenty-seven sparkly eyeshadow palettes in the same color range, no fewer than sixteen “miracle” foundations which provided nary a benefit never mind act of God, and enough razor cartridges to make bare as a baby’s bottom an entire rugby team?

-How many trial-size shampoos can a person possibly own? The answer is correlated to the number of tiny refillable travel shampoo bottles that person has purchased (in order to avoid buying more disposable trial size shampoos) that can never be found on the frantic eve of a trip.

-Why do I even own a curling iron?

Maybe these things proliferate when we’re not looking, like reverse shoemaker’s elves running around making a horrible, regret-inducing mess.

Just as soon as I tackled the clutter recently and promised myself I’d buy no more hair products until the gajillion I have are gone, my new hairdresser, a curly hair expert, goes and tells me I should eliminate dimethicone from my styling regime because it’s drying my curls out. Guess what every single hair product in my arsenal contains? So now I have to buy all new products. It’s a never-ending cycle. (First world problems,  as they say!)

In my quest to live a life guided by grace, one of the simplest things I keep nudging myself in the direction of doing (with varying degrees of success) is just buying less. Bring less into the house and there are fewer opportunities for my inner Tasmanian devil to wreak havoc and thus for my anxiety and guilt to arise. Everyone wins! Except capitalism!

Sometimes that doesn’t mean buying nothing. . . I’ve come to the realization that it can mean splurging on one nice leather handbag instead of repeatedly buying inferior plastic ones that have to be thrown out. That crazy lady digging around in those dress tiers to find the fabric content label is me. . . I no longer buy things just because I am attracted to them: I almost always put down the polyester.

I am at least cognizant that four crystal balls is really enough for a gadje.

crystal

If I manage to keep all of the things together in their thing places, flaunting their too-much-thingyness, the visual reminder may someday be enough for me to remember that enough is enough.

Buy what you love. Keep what brings you joy. Savor its beauty by treating it with care.

“Use it up, wear it out;

Make it do, or do without!”

Grace Me Guide

Several years ago, after a weak moment in Barnes & Noble, I read Eat, Pray, Love. It was obviously a time of great soul-searching, as I then checked out The Artist’s Way and Wild Mind and that one about “morning pages” (?), and started a new journal dedicated to my new principles of self-actualization.

Like most writers, I am sure (and most Virgos, I suspect), there is little I adore more than a fresh, clean, beautiful, unsullied blank book. (Lined, please, because as artistic as I may hope to be, I shall never master the art of writing a straight line across a plain page.) I wonder how many others too, like me, leave the first leaf virgin, always.

This book, I decided (purple leather, made in India, with hot pink edging), would house a journal of the principles I hope to live by, summed up by the phrase on my family crest:

Forbes_aGrace Me Guide.

To me Grace is not a religious concept so much as a way of conducting oneself in the world. To be guided by Grace is to live mindfully and with kindness, and being impelled to fulfill one’s potential. In order to work toward living a life guided by Grace, I set some slightly-less-vague action principles:

Live mindfully: Be present in the moment; eat whole foods and remember to savor; spend time in nature and move the body

Show love: Be a more appreciative partner; keep up with correspondence; make time for friends

Organize: Keep physical clutter to a minimum, which keeps psychic clutter down, too

Create!

. . .And there were three more. Three more, because I would have chosen seven, of course. But I can’t remember them, and when I  later came upon the scarcely-started book, I was so embarrassed to be so far behind on progressing toward the goals that I ripped the section out of the book without looking.

For many years I was headed down a path where fulfilment seemed out of reach, though I longed for a change. A crisis both financial and psychological– losing my job and with it my identity as a hard worker — sent me through two years of self-searching and brainstorming and desperate reading and crippling anxiety and the hopes-dashed rollercoaster, to a point where I believe I am ready to have Grace guide me where I need to be. I need to make music, and write, and make the world a better place even in some small way by giving love, and keep a smaller number of possessions: those that bring me joy. I want to live more simply, with more purpose, and with appreciation for every moment on this beautiful planet with its wonderful creatures.