The K of Living Impefectly: Keeping It Real #atozchallenge

 

Being yourself battle

K Challenge LetterAs most of you know this is my third A to Z Challenge and every year this sneaky letter K causes me grief. This year is no different and I’ve really grappled with this K post. I’ve never thought about K as being a problem letter, but clearly this is a lesson in imperfection teaching me to park my expectations at the door.

Keeping it real has always been a big one for me. I have always firmly believed that building meaningful relationships is all about trust, of which one of the central pillars is meaning what you say and saying what you mean. Clearly this is not always the easiest path to take and at times can be quite a solitary journey. There are other times when I meet a kindred spirit on that road and that’s when I can really feel the friendship flow and that sense of connection. There are yet others when people at first blush appear to be the real deal, but scratch a little below the surface and you know you are dealing with a pretender.

Keeping it real to me also means:

  • not having to appear busy to increase my worthiness
  • keeping commitments that I have made, but being discerning about making them
  • not being afraid to express myself respectfully
  • trying new things and laughing at failure
  • backing myself and knowing I am the real deal
  • understanding my value proposition
  • rolling up my sleeves to get the job done
  • helping people when and where I can
  • owning my part in an outcome and not blaming others for my own failures
  • eliminating passive aggression from my life.

That last one in particular is a big one for me right now. I deserve crave authentic communication. Real discourse that gets to the heart of an issue/problem so we can get on with the business of fixing it or going our separate ways if that is an option.

What makes keeping it real also hard is that we don’t want people to perceive we are selfish when we practice it. However, the reality is that although we like to think we can control perception, we can’t because by its very nature it is derived from another’s thoughts.

duck authenticity

In the end, I believe it costs us more to be what others want us to be than it is to keep it real. It takes real energy to constantly mould and play into others’ expectations. I’d rather channel that energy in becoming acquainted with myself and to manage my own expectations.

The J of Living Imperfectly: Why There Are No Jewels in Judgement #atozchallenge

want-to-be-around-people-that-things-amy-poehler

J Challenge LetterThe quote for today goes to the heart of what living imperfectly currently means to me. I’ve been writing about authenticity for the last nine days and I’m about to take a huge step in that direction by admitting that the weight of duty is currently weighing heavily. This is not an easy admission to make, because my sense of perfection is all wrapped up in duty, or more specifically the discharge of it.

I have never been the type of person who can ‘play” knowing there are things that have to be done. By things, I don’t mean housework things, I can happily let ironing, washing and cooking slide, except when they directly relate to family occasions. By things I mean work things, social obligation things, parental obligation things, wife obligation things and daughter obligations things. Seems like a lot of things to juggle before I can get anywhere near me time.

Except now I have started to become a lot more discerning in relation to those duties that really are to be given priority. This is largely because these duties involve being around people who don’t bring anything to my table. They judge, they gossip, they certainly don’t support and they don’t do things. It is extremely small-minded to comment on other people doing things from the safety of your comfort zone.  The way I see it, judging others is a past time for those who seek distraction from the mundane or who don’t have the courage to face up to the issues in their own life.  The gratification that comes from believing you are superior or from grading someone else’s life or performance against your exacting standards is short-lived and misconceived. It might kill time and serve as a bonding tool, but what kind of healthy relationship can you have built on negativity? Just look at female cliques as a typical example.

And that equally goes for judging ourselves and the relationship we have with ourselves. How can you have a healthy relationship with yourself comfort-zone-3built on negativity?

There are therefore no jewels in judgement.

If someone wants to be held hostage to their own fears that is entirely a matter for them. However, it does not mean that I have to be held  hostage to them as well. I have a choice and for the moment my choice is no.

Which means there is some unavoidable jettisoning of relationships and the judgements and negativity that go with them. Which also goes against the grain of my strive for perfection. The perfection paradox is multi-layered indeed.

The I of Living Imperfectly: The Irony of the Perfectionist #atozchallenge

I Challenge LetterThe fundamental irony of perfection is that we are taught to strive for it only to discover that it is that ever present striving that prevents us from living a happy life. On the surface perfectionism is an admirable trait as it usually produce excellence, but it comes at a cost. And that cost is the feeling that what we are doing is never enough, we are never enough.

I work in profession dominated by A type personalities. To play the game and succeed, we were all striving to bring not only our A game, but to perpetually push and push so that one day we would be able to bring and sustain our A+ game. Writing this now it reminds me of the old party game of blowing at an air filled balloon to ensure that it never reaches the floor. Having kept the balloon in the air, at the end of the game you are left breathless and dizzy, but with a fleetingly temporary sense of achievement.

I have been researching the ways that perfectionism is ironic and have come up with the following list:

  • if ever anyone could achieve the state of perfection, it is doubtful anyone could tolerate that perfectionist for long. Fun is an integral part of life.
  • true perfection is about enjoying the moment, enjoying life. Perfectionism tends to rob us of this enjoyment and of our sense of awe and wonder.
  • believing as a perfectionist that you must never make mistakes means that you will probably look out for any mistakes or signs of failure so you can correct these immediately.

  • the demand for perfection can actually impede performance. For example, you may turn you into a chronic procrastinator because of the fear of making mistakes. This also extends to being less innovative and creative or less open to new ideas.

  • far from being liberating, perfectionism is a psychological dictatorship. As one site puts it:

These personal restrictive ‘prisons’ are built on a solid foundation of rigid rules and assumptions of right and wrong, with walls of ‘should’s’ and ‘ought’s’ and ‘mustn’t’s’, strong bars of perfectionism, unbreakable locks of defeatism, and guards of arrogance on a constant duty to ‘be right’.

This description is so apt. I was trying to describe this very thing in my F post a couple of days ago and was struggling to put it Charlie Browninto words. I have discovered over the past couple of years that letting go of the black and white thinking plays a huge part in jettisoning perfectionist tendencies. That, and humour. However it is so very easy to slip back into old comfortable habits, so one must be ever vigilant and practice conscious awareness.

One thing that has struck me already about this Challenge is that in writing about perfectionism, I am taking a rather hard line. I don’t mean too, but it generally reflects the hard line I am taking with myself for having not realised all of this sooner (more perfectionism???). On the surface, perfectionism seems to have served me well, but I am only just getting a true picture of what I have missed in being the perfect perfectionism practitioner.

It is only now, by letting my grey matter think in grey terms that I am seeing colour. And that seems to be the most ironic truth of all.

Irony quote

 

 

The H of Living Imperfectly: Hair and Hoary #atozchallenge

Indeed, simplicity is the grand secret of a lady’s toilet. When she burdens herself with a profusion of bijouterie she rather detracts from than adds to her personal appearance, while all outré fashions and ultra-style of dress, though they excite attention, neither win respect nor enhance the attraction of the wearer - Martine’s Handbook to Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness, Arthur Martine, Dick & Fitzgerald Publishers, 1866.

H Challenge LetterWe all long for perfect hair no matter where we are on the ageing spectrum. Women obsess about it, men fantasize over it, our babies lovingly pull or stroke it.

Much has been written and opined about what makes hair perfect, both in terms of colour and length. Just this past weekend, my Sunday paper ran a feature on hair length. It pointed out the connection between hair length and femininity and suggested that the ideal woman in the eyes of a gentleman is a feminine woman and that the appearance of a woman brushing her long hair is very feminine, sensual and appealing.

There is clearly politics in female hair for it is expected that a woman’s hair must at all times be age appropriate.

Apparently, the rule of thumb is that whilst single, young women should maintain long hair as this is correlated to sexual desire. Once married though they are expected to cut their locks to ready themselves for the practical duties of housing-minding and child-rearing. Ladies, apparently marriage and short hair also means that we can “give up” as we have snagged ourselves a husband. Moreover, it is expected that once a woman hits 50, she must part with her tresses as a sign that her job of rearing the children is over.

H is also for Hmmmm.

I have a 50 year old friend who wears her hair long and grey. She is a very natural, nurturing person who has never coloured her hair. Her hairgrey hair length is about at her shoulder blades with bangs at the front and a feathering of length down the sides of her face. Simply by virtue of her choices, my friend has received many unsolicited not so positive remarks about not only her hair colour, but also its length.  These remarks are made not only by acquaintances, but also by complete strangers. The fact is she looks terrific and she is comfortable in her locks. She is also a married  mother of two and simply likes long hair.

Why should her hairstyle make anyone else uncomfortable is beyond me. I can only ascribe it to perfection gone made and expectations we have on what a middle aged woman should look like.

By contrast, I am hard pressed to raise any real interest in my hair from anyone and more particularly the males in my family. I have worn my hair short until a couple of years ago when I decided to grow it out as a testament to the heavy physical duties of my child rearing days being over. I let it grow to shoulder blade length and only recently decided to go a little shorter. The humid summer just past may have played a little in that decision. Two days ago I changed my hair colour considerably. One person in my family noticed, namely my younger son oh, and possibly the cat.

Maybe this is because my hair was not swinging in slow motion. Have you ever noticed that every shampoo commercial ever made depicts a young girl swinging her hair from side to side in slow motion? This might be an explanation of why washed hair in real life never looks as good as on the ads – shampoo was never meant to be used for full speed hair.

Living imperfectly means ignoring settled convention and wearing the hair that makes you comfortable. Long, short or a bit of both with a dash of grey, the choice is an individual one.

We should not become entangled in convention perfection.

The G of Living Imperfectly: Generations and Guilt #atozchallenge

Whether you’re working from home because your kid is sick, you freelance or you’re still looking for a job, there’s one thing you must do during a conference call: Get your kid to shut up.

Children hate anyone who takes your attention away from them. Like the animals that can sense an impending earth-quake, children can tell when you are about to say something very important to a client. They have a superpower and they use it for evil. You must prepare. – Sh*tty Mum: The Parenting Guide For The Rest Of Us by Laurie Kilmartin, Karen Moline, Alice Ybarbo and Mary Ann Zoellner, Abrams Image 2012

Letter GIf you are a parent who is always perfect in how you deal with your children and have no tolerance for those who are not then you are going to hate this post. I suggest you look away now to avoid the stress and anxiety not to mention beads of sweat that will form above your immaculately presented upper lip once you have delved into my imperfect world. For I am about to jump into that can of worms that is perfection and parenting or as I sometimes call it, perfecting the generations.

I have been a human being for 50 years. I have been a parent for almost 20 of those years. Little did I know that almost 20 years ago, I would be given my pass to the secret code. The Mo Code. Back in 2012, I wrote about the Mo Code in a blog about how to survive a road trips with teenagers. The Mo Code is my term for things that real mothers do and say, rather than what they should say. This is in sharp contrast to the utterances of Stepford mothers or the advice given by parenting manuals and advice columns, highlighting a kind of parenting credibility gap.

From the day I first gave birth, I was thrown into a vortex of expectation, both mine and others’. Everyone wants to be perceived to be the perfect parent, or if not perfect then at least a good one. And so the Mo Code comes into play. How dare we admit that parenting is hard or that little Johnny sometimes wears the same socks for three days straight? Or that we have allowed our children to watch TV for 15 minutes whilst taking a client call? Or that we sometimes feel overwhelmed, ill-equipped, tired and stressed, namely we are not perfect parents? Most of us admit these things only to the closest of confidants and definitely behind the curtain.

And then there’s the guilt. Guilt, parenting and perfection is the great triumvirate of birthing. Those clever ad executives with their baby product clients know this and peddle all three. Everyone’s a winner, right? Well everyone except us parents. Because any satisfaction or that we may have gained from buying into this consumer perfection, quickly evaporates when the next product comes onto the market.

Really, at the end of the day the only legitimate judges of our parenting are our children and ourselves, and even then how success in parenting is defined is highly subjective.

The important thing is that we keep parenting real. We need to talk about the hardships, the pitfalls, the wins and the losses and what really works for us. And we need to do it without guilt and with humour and authenticity. In this way we will be doing a huge service notimagesFEOCU3NX only to ourselves but to future generations of parents who will carry the weight of expectation well beyond the time their baby bump has disappeared.

For this reason, a book such as Sh*tty Mum: The Parenting Guide For The Rest Of Us  is to be welcomed. Not everyone will applaud or understand as the Amazon reviews will attest. However, it brings the real covert behaviour of the Mo Code out into the open and creates a new dialogue from a most refreshing angle. As this post from Essential Kids tells us:

In fact, a recent survey by parenting website BabyCentre in the UK found that lying is widespread among mothers. The pressure on them to be ‘perfect’ led to more than half of those questioned saying they felt the need to lie about their parenting skills to make them seem like better parents to others. Nine out of ten mothers confessed to using television to keep their children quiet, while 71 per cent admitted to lying to their child to make their day easier and a fifth of those questioned said they occasionally replaced a healthy dinner with chocolate and sweets.

These statistics don’t surprise me and I suspect they would be closely replicated in Australia.

It’s a real shame that we feel the need to be pressured by perception. Parenting is a unique journey for all of us and we should be supporting each other rather than treating it and our kids as the trophies of our perfection.

I really hope that one day we can let our parenting authenticity shine though so that we can enjoy it 100% guilt free like these authors.

The F of Living Imperfectly: Flexibility and Forgiveness #atozchallenge

Keep your engagements. Nothing is ruder than to make an engagements, be it of business or pleasure, and break it. If you memory is not sufficiently retentive to keep all the engagements you make stored within it, carry a little memorandum book and enter them there. Especially keep any appointment made with a lady, for, depend on it, the fair sex forgive any other fault in good breeding, sooner than a broken engagement – Martine’s Handbook to Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness, Arthur Martine, Dick & Fitzgerald Publishers, 1866.

F Challenge LetterWe all have a film reel in our head. The reel entitled Great Expectations” seems to be the standard by which we judge success and failure, ourselves and others. Whether your reel is a comedic, tragic, dramatic or fantasy filled, it is a constantly turning and projecting. How we react when real life does not play out according to our film reel determines our resilience and adaptability.

How do you react when life’s actors fluff their lines or go off script? Are you flexible enough to change direction or do you lament the need to ad lib?  And do you blame others when they do go off script?

Inflexibility or rigidity is one of the traits of perfectionism. What can easily be glossed over as a high standard, is really a low tolerance for deviation. Both in ourselves and others. This often leads to over thinking and planning things so that deviations can be minimized.

I used to be a planner. Researching, preparing and making sure each duck was in its right place in the row well ahead of time so that it could allpretty-woman-unscripted-scene be fine tuned if necessary. Now, not so much for I have discovered that my energy is better utilised in enjoying the activity or the company and in any event, you just can’t plan for every contingency, especially if human behaviour is involved.

As Brene Brown said: “Perfectionism is not about striving for excellence or healthy striving”. “It’s… a way of thinking and feeling that says this: ‘If I look perfect, do it perfect, work perfect and live perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame and judgment.’”

Forgiveness therefore plays a big part in moving away from perfectionism. We need to forgive others for their deviation, but most importantly we need to forgive ourselves for our own.

There are some great movies in which actors ad libbed only to enhance the story. Who can forget Humphrey Bogart’s most famous line in Casablanca “Here’s looking at you kid”? or the scene between Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when he shows her a diamond necklace in an open and when she reaches out to touch it he snaps the box closed on her hand? The snap and Julia’s giggle in response are all unscripted.

The world is just waiting to be discovered through unscripted moments. We just need to be flexible enough so they will find us.

 

The E of Living Imperfectly: Aiming For Excellence Rather Than Perfection #atozchallenge

Gentlemen, we are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence. I am not remotely interested in just being good – Vince Lombardi, legendary football coach of the Green Bay Packers.

E Challenge letterVince Lombardi is heralded as a great coach and motivator who has strong views on winning and achieving success. True it is he took the Packers to a Super Bowl win but has he got it right with this quote? And would it work for everyone?

I stumbled upon this quote a couple of days ago and it really resonated.  Then I began mulling it over and I have to respectfully disagree with Mr Lombardi.

In our formative years we are taught that to strive for something less than perfection is somehow substandard. We grow up with the notion that the aim of everything we do, from our deportment, manners, fashion, education and relationships is perfection. Unless we have reconciled our position in relation to perfection in our teenage years, we end up taking this concept into adulthood and into the workforce. And we tie ourselves in knots in our attempts to reach that goal.

If Mr Lombardi were still with us today, I would ask him why is he coaching others to strive for something which he himself acknowledges is impossible? Why is it not enough to aim for and reach excellence? This seems to be a tacit acknowledgement that humans can never reach a target. Instead of making the target realistic and hitting it, the target is over inflated so that some perceived lesser standard is reached.

This is not only bunkum, it is dangerous as many a parent has subsequently found out.

Michal J Fox got it right when he said:

Michael J Fox excellence

 

 

 

 

The Oxford Dictionary defines excellence as ” the quality of being outstanding or extremely good”. Perfection on the other hand connotes the concept of being flawless.

And yet, we so often confuse excellence with perfection. Business and academia often subscribes to the notion that if something is less than perfect then you haven’t done your best.  A lot of businesses and consultants proudly proclaim that their product or service is better because it is the product of perfection. And how could we be disappointed with perfection?

We need to be careful not only of the marketing hyperbole but also our own self talk. Often what we are really striving for is to be extremely good or outstanding, rather than to be flawless. But like Mr Lombardi, we tend to raise our own bar artificially high, thinking that’s what we need to do our best.  To further demonstrate the incongruity that this creates, take the grading system for universities in this country. Universities generally grade students on a scale from Fail to High Distinction. The grades that you can achieve are:

  1. Fail – less than 50%
  2. Pass – 50-64%
  3. Credit – 65-74%
  4. Distinction – 75-84%
  5. High Distinction – 85%-100%

There is no grade called Perfect for 100%. You reach 100%, you will get the same grade just like all the students who achieved excellence. The difference may be in the percentage, but I have yet to see an academic who has awarded a perfect score on any assessment based on subjective criteria.

Aiming to do our best and for excellence keeps it real. Anything more and we sacrifice our humanness. And we need to remember that it is more than acceptable to be human. Indeed, my very best friends are.

PS. To my fellow A to Zers, I am running really behind on responding to your comments and commenting on your blogs due to a crushing work and academic load. I am hoping to catch up in the next couple of days. I beg your indulgence until then.