How I Learned to Relax and Stop Being a Perfectionist

nervous_0This just in: we are imperfect, every last one of us. Always and forever. And here’s the great news … within that imperfection actually lies our perfection. If this sounds like a koan or a word puzzle, it’s not. It’s just a bit of gristle the Universe has given us to work on.

I say this as a recovering perfectionist. And you may have to find your way through this truth to truly get it.

Over the last few years, I’ve seen how raggedly I’ve run myself throughout my life. All, of course, in the pursuit of that invisible ghost: perfection.

But when upheaval happens, suddenly you are forced to stop and let go, and then the truth dawns. There is no book of standards you must live up to. And the only person waving that whip is … you. It wasn’t until my daughter suddenly died that I stopped trying to be a heroic superwoman. Because frankly, there didn’t seem to be much point.

That was four years ago. Now I have a different perspective. I’m back to producing my writings and other creative work, and I have decided to give myself all the time in the world — and all the permission in the world to do so.

Now I can mess up, make mistakes and not get things right. Then I can ask for help, get feedback, course correct and improve. And I can do this again and again and again.

Recently I experienced this around a book I just finished writing. I asked my partner to read the first draft, knowing her analytical mind would pick up all kinds of loose ends in my complex plot.

She came up with a long list of fixes, all of which were feasible. After the list was delivered, what I felt was pure gratitude and some relief. I knew there were missing pieces but I wasn’t sure what they were. Hallelujah!

Hours later it suddenly occurred to me that my inner perfectionist hadn’t even flinched. The first draft wasn’t a glowing model of perfection — it needed work. And beautifully … that was okay! Bottom line is that the book will now be vastly improved, and so this is actually very good news.

In the old days, my perfectionist would have been appalled. It needed me to be impressive at everything I did the minute I did it. Lord, was that tedious! It was an ancient mindset locked in place when I was a child, by an encouraging father who frequently told me I’d be a star someday. So I was left with the massively huge job of delivering on that promise.

No one ever said to me, “Go ahead and be mediocre, honey. That’s just fine.” I was expected to be a star, and it was up to me to figure out how to do it.

When a therapist first delivered this news to me, I was appalled. My own father set me up for perfection-mania? I loved my dear dad, and couldn’t imagine that he meant any harm. Which, of course, he didn’t. But this is how perfectionists are born.

Somehow, somewhere in our pasts, our little survivor selves believe we must overachieve to get our basic needs met. Perhaps you know what I’m talking about.

Today I keep the following promises with myself:

  1. Good enough is just fine with me.
  2. Mistakes ultimately make things better.
  3. Ask for help the minute you need it.
  4. There’s all the time in the world to get things done.
  5. Creating is a process … so go with the flow.

I also make a practice of stopping and breathing. I allow things to unfold, and I dive into the mystery of what will happen next.

Most of all, I keep in mind that if I don’t get things perfect the first time, the sky will not fall. In fact, I know I will be just fine — as I have been through every step of the last four years.

Perfection is nothing more than the cry of a frightened soul trying to get our attention. When we stop to listen to it, and we reassure ourselves that we’re going to be okay, then we grow.

For it is our compassion towards ourselves that really unlocks our brilliance, one sweet, vulnerable step at a time.

All we have to do is be willing to see the truth.





How to Keep the Faith When All Hell is Breaking Loose

For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.

               – Cynthia Occelli

seed breakDo you know this place of complete surrender? Life happens and you are swept along with it. You stand in the wind and feel nothing beneath your feet as you are buffeted here and there. Yet … if you look … you will find there is something beneath your feet.

That something is belief. — you know it in your heart . As the wind rattles everything around you, you distantly recall platitudes about ‘this too will pass’ and windows closing and doors opening.

But belief’s a slippery bugger, and it’s so hard to hang in there when life seems to threaten your very existence.

Here are some things you can do to keep the faith while your own seed is breaking open.

  1. Remember that nothing is permanent. Whatever is happening right now really will pass. In a year’s time it will be a memory, perhaps sooner. And with that remembering comes perspective. Right now is possibly the worst this experience will feel.
  1. You might as well embrace reality. Trying to duck it is basically like trying to swim upstream against an impossible current. You will eventually get pushed back to that inevitable truth. So make life easy in the end by opening that letter, making that phone call, having that conversation now. Then just let the chips to fall where they may – no matter how painful. By honoring the flow of life, you will ultimately be rewarded.
  1. Enjoy what there is to be enjoyed. There will be strange little flickers of joy (and even big ones) along the way. They are Spirit’s way of saying, ‘It’s OK, you can take a break from all of this heaviness.” I saw it all around me in that terrible week that my daughter lay dying in the hospital. At the time I couldn’t understand the joy, but now I do. There is divinity even in great pain and loss. By recognizing it and even savoring it, you give your heart a little relief.
  1. Take time for yourself. Whatever is challenging you, you can allow space and time to comfort yourself. You must if you are ever to get to the gold buried deep within the fire. (Did I mention there is gold there?) Take a walk, write in a journal, listen to soothing music, read something comforting. Close the door on the rest of the world and allow yourself to actively feel what you need to feel. Then breathe, and know in the end everything’s going to be okay. This is where the magic healing happens.
  1. Ask Spirit to show you the way. Know that this, too, is part of the divine plan, no matter how heinous or difficult your circumstance. Who said life was meant to be easy and free all the time? Where would the growth be if it was? Above all know that God has your back, now and forever, and nothing that happens is without reason. Whenever you need to understand more, or get more guidance, simply ask. The answer is there.
  1. Create a bed of support. No one says you have to cross the desert alone. It wouldn’t be in your best interest to suffer excessively. So ask for help. Call a trusted friend or five. Reach out to family. Find a good therapist. Go to a support group, like  hospice grief groups, or even 12 Step recovery groups. These are people you can learn from and support, in turn. People understand and they genuinely want to help you. They really do.
  1. Trust the process. You may feel excruciatingly alone. You may feel like you are so lost you will never recover … But here’s the thing. This is all happening for a reason, and you will never be the same again. So allow the magic of life to do its work and set you free. Your soul will thank you for it, and you will emerge stronger and better for it. You really will.

How do I know this? I was given this truth after my own seed exploded into the Universe with nary a trace left behind. It is only in complete surrender that you can know the most profound joy.

Believe it or not, there is magic here, friend. But you must let go to let it in. And so it is.