Hi. My name’s Lindsay and I’m a perfectionist. [Hi, Lindsay.]
I’m not saying this in the humble-braggy tone you would use in an interview. (“My greatest weakness? Oh, that I’m just such a perfectionist and will work so hard for you! Tee hee!”) I’m saying this in the, I-have-the-uncanny-ability-to-make-myself-miserable-for-literally-no-good-reason tone. And it’s not ok.
You want to hear something funny? I never even used to believe in “perfection.” Once I got out of school, I definitely stopped believing in “failure,” since generally we get second tries at things if we stand up and brush ourselves off after we fall down. I don’t care what anyone else thinks of my life or lifestyle and I don’t compete with the Joneses in terms of what I wear, what I drive, or where I live.
But you want to know what I do believe in and hate? Waste.
And you want to know what I hate wasting the most? Potential. My own potential, specifically. For years, I wasn’t worried about it–I went to work to pay off my student loans, and I pretty much did whatever I felt like when I wasn’t at the office. When I got transferred to Houston seven years ago, I thought at the time it was going to be a temporary thing. So I worked Monday through Friday and partied Friday through Sunday. I was being responsible-ish and I wasn’t hurting anyone. Wasn’t that enough?
But the longer I lived in Houston and the more settled I got, the more uncomfortable I got with the potential of “this” being all I would ever have. I began to worry about not “maximizing my time” outside of work. My motto became, “If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it right,” and I applied it to both work and play.
Over the course of the last three years I began to throw myself 110% into various hobbies: I developed an interest in fitness and nutrition and began working out once or twice a day, I bought a piano, I started an Etsy store selling secondhand art, I joined a yoga studio, I started writing romance, I started a garden. All while working full-time and commuting an hour each way.
I’ve realized I’m pretty good at getting things started,but less interested in the day-to-day operations of maintaining hobbies.
I easily lost 30 pounds in the first six months, but I’ve gained about eight pounds back in the past year. I never play my piano. I paid more in taxes for my Etsy store than I ever made in sales and disbanded it after just a couple of months. I love outlining romance novels but then lose steam when it comes to actually writing them, since it tends to cut into my yoga-and-workout time and therefore affects my weight (see above).
For the past six months, I’ve just been “trying harder.” I’ve been looking up inspirational posters for my desktop wallpapers and setting milestones for myself to reach that dream weight or finish that first manuscript. My days have been made up of self-inflicted “shoulds.” I should be skipping carbs, I should be making visible progress on something every day, I should be making my weekends worthwhile.
I was exhausted, y’all. Exhausted and burnt out and disappointed, in both myself and my life.
Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection
Enter The Gifts of Imperfection, by Dr. Brene Brown. I stumbled
across a reference to Dr. Brown in Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy, and was curious enough to look her up, then figured I’d give this try a book. I never would have thought I was a perfectionist, but I was willing to give it a shot.
Holy shit, guys. This book rocked my world. Seriously. It rocked it. A lot of it is the same wisdom we’ve heard time and time again, but Dr. Brown puts it in such a way that it finally sunk in for me. You mean I should be asking myself what I want to do instead of what I think I should be doing? You mean, I should really pay attention to what gives me pleasure rather than just making a huge bucket list of achievements and then feeling crappy because I either don’t achieve them or they don’t bring me any pleasure?
I think all adults should read this book. Not only does Dr. Brown talk about her research into shame and joy, but she talks about how she reacted to its results and ultimately used them in her own life:
As I started analyzing the stories and looking for re-occurring themes, I realized that the patterns generally fell into one of two columns: for simplicity sake, I first labeled these Do and Don’t. The Do column was brimming with words like worthiness, rest, play, trust, faith, intuition, hope, authenticity, love, belonging, joy, gratitude, and creativity. The Don’t column was dripping with words like perfection, numbing, certainty, exhaustion, self-sufficiency, being cool, fitting in, judgment, and scarcity.
[…] Even though I wrote the lists, I was shocked to read them. […] I finally stood up, grabbed my marker off the table, drew a line under the Don’t list, and then wrote the word me under the line. My struggles seemed to be perfectly characterized by the sum total of the list.
I folded my arms tightly across my chest, sunk deep down into my chair, and thought, This is just great. I’m living straight down the shit list.”
Beyond just being hilarious and awesome, Dr. Brown also provides activities to DIG deep (being Deliberate in thoughts and behaviors, being Inspired to make new and different choices, and getting Going). Full confession: I didn’t do all of the activities, but I did the ones that seemed like they would have the most impact, and I’m most certainly going to reread this book.
My current project? Asking myself what I want to do rather than what I should do… about everything. Not making choices because I don’t want to “waste my potential” or “waste the weekend,” but because it’s what I truly want to do in this moment.