The P of Living Imperfectly: Pride (A Guest Post) #atozchallenge

P Challenge Letter

Today I’m excited to have my friend and fellow blogger, Cricket Fox, provide a guest post for my imperfect series. Cricket who blogs at Cricket’s Corner of Australia, writes about a variety of topics from the perspective of an American who has now relocated to Australia, including some chicken soup for the soul. Cricket and I had a blast last year when I hosted Cricket for her 50th birthday and surprised her by taking her to see the performer of her dreams in my hometown.We met through writing and blogging.

Pride is an integral part of perfection and something most of us grapple with. Being perfect to many means not being be able to ask for help. I know I struggle with this. Here’s Cricket’s take on this meaty topic:

According to the dictionary the word pride means: an inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance or merit, the state of feeling or being proud.

We are all proud of different things in life, how well the kids do when they step outside their comfort zone. How well they do when they accomplish something unique. We are even proud of ourselves when we accomplish something that we never thought we would. Pride is listed as one of the 7 deadly sins but it is the one with which I have the most trouble.

This got me thinking about how prideful we are at times about things and when the road gets tough, why is it so difficult to become human and ask for help? Why is it that just admitting we need help makes us worry what people will think?

I am the first one to admit that I am guilty of this. There have been many times that I have needed help have either never asked or came helpaway with the feeling that I should have asked sooner. Why? When I know there were people there ready and waiting to lend a hand. Is it a sign of weakness when we become human and tell our friends that we need them?

I don’t understand why it is hard to just be human and ask for the help we need. Are we afraid of what people will say? That we are weak and can’t manage on our own? It is OK to be vulnerable but in the past I have been looked down on for showing that side. There have been times that I have waited until it was too late and the problem got out of hand and I thought I really could do this on my own. If I had only asked for help sooner, how the journey to the end might have turned out different or even ended sooner.

We hope that our parents are proud of us for the accomplishments as kids growing up and all. I can’t remember hearing my Dad say he was proud of me, I don’t know why it was so hard for him to say it. I always made sure that my girls heard it from me and their Dad. I always tell people the best thing I ever did was my daughters. I secretly hope that they are proud of me. I know I have not made the best decisions at time but looking back it could have been my pride in asking for help. Maybe things would be different now if I had not allowed my pride to get the better of me.

It has taken going through a lot to finally see that it really is OK, to put pride aside, and get the help you need to get through the rough time. All you might need is just some support to help deal with bad news, it could just be a crappy day and you need someone just to listen.
You just need to make the decision to let go of pride, realize it is acceptable to be human and make a simple statement: “I need some help”

I know this might not make a lot of sense but I just want you to think about when you use pride and how. Have a think about when someone you know is struggling and you know they need help but are afraid to ask. Don’t push them down but lend them a hand up.

It could be you next time putting your pride aside and needing the help.

 

The O of Living Imperfectly: Feeling Oppresively Busy #atozchallenge

horse busy

O Challenge LetterFeeling overwhelmed seems to come with the territory of perfection. So much to do, so little time and the constant need to be busy.

An article in my Sunday paper today proclaims:

Are you too busy? You should be, and you should let people know in a proud but exasperated tone.

The concept of busyness for busyness sake has been on my mind for a while now. Being a professional woman and mother means being surrounded by other busy professional people constantly bemoaning the lack of free time. Are we really all that busy or are we really projecting our fear of being perceive idle. For somewhere along the line busyness has become acquainted with a mark of social status. As my Sunday article says, “If you are busy, you’re important and you’re leading a full and worthy life.”

To be perfect, you must be constantly busy, right?

Busy for busyness sake is a total paradox. Being this sort of busy may make you feel important for a fleeting moment, but denies you time for making deeper connections with those that are likely to be your busy in your older age when busyness tends to stop. Having deeper connections also tends to be more fulfilling than temporarily shortening your to do list by three entries.

There are some people I know who determine their importance by the number of phone calls and emails they receive and yet bemoan the fact that they are always busy. They revel in having a list of tasks to perform that in the end weave a discordant fabric around their self worth. And taken to the extreme, they feel uncomfortable when others are idle. Never waste a single minute,let alone an hour or a day. This need to be perfectly busy seems exhausting and counterproductive.

According to my Sunday article, researchers apparently call this “contaminated time”. This is doing so many different kind of things that baroness of a busy lifethey all blend into each other.It probably won’t surprise you to know that women are generally more susceptible because they have a harder time shutting down the to do list in their heads.

I remember as a mother of young when the golden egg was laid and I found a rare hour or two for myself, the feeling of elation and relief was short lived. Because of the rarity, I used to put myself under enormous pressure to make these hours count, to do something worthwhile. Reading a book or falling asleep in the sun never felt enough, even though that was what my spirit was calling out for.

I’ve since learned that free time is exactly that, free time and should be approached without guilt, regret or judgement. It should be practiced with mindfulness.

Real importance is measured by our positive impacts on others’ lives. Busyness as part of perfectionism is a shield. It’s time we laid it down and gave our self permission to just be. And to be there for ourselves and for those who matter.

The M of Living Imperfectly: Managing From The Rear #atozchallenge

Handling betrayal

M Challenge LetterWe are all a walking bunch of expectations. Some involve solely our own behaviour, but for most of us they involve the behaviour of others or the achievement of an outcome involving others. I have always thought that being able to manage the expectations of others is a key skill. It certainly is in the business world. It is why the business world is so hung up on finding “influencers” and why being able to “manage stakeholders” is just as important if not more so than possessing any technical skills for a particular role. Managing stakeholders and influencing involves an intricate dance across a tightrope walk, with sometimes unpredictable results.

Like any dance, it requires practice, repetition and energy. Expectations are generally like trip wire unless they are communicated. They invariably aren’t and you only know you’ve crossed the invisible line when the alarm sounds.

Which is why having to do the same dance in non-business life seems exhausting.

Isn’t the theory meant to be that you find a group of friends and a spouse where you can be you, a you who will sometimes inadvertently disappoint by not meeting unilateral expectations? And isn’t the consequence of not meeting this expectation meant to be a moment of annoyance (if that) a possible readjustment of activity and moving on and getting on the with the friendship/relationship?

I’m not talking here about major life decision expectations, but rather day-to-day behavioural expectations.

It’s the age old social dance.

Lately, I have been constantly feeling like I’m being managed from the rear. True leaders lead from the front and are not afraid to articulate their expectations and to motivate their team to each those expectations. This is managing from the front. By contrast, managing from the rear is never putting your expectations self out there, and manipulating others to fall in line with your expectations. The manipulation can come in several forms, including guilt, leverage or anger.

On one level, it is partly my fault by letting my people pleasing tendencies respond. On the other level though, people really need to learn to lead from the front and manage their own expectations.

Perhaps this is really what happens when two perfectionists with slightly different tendencies come together.

So I have come full circle on the need to manage others’ expectations. I think we all need to take hold of our own first and not require others to necessarily fall in line with our thinking unless this outcome has been expressly discussed.

Dealing with someone’s constant disappointment is exhausting and is as wrong as being constantly disappointed.

Lead me from the front and there is a chance I will follow. Because constantly looking in rear vision mirrors can distort the real image.

The L of Living Imperfectly: Losing Yourself In Fear #atozchallenge

OK, so I know I’m not perfect. The past week of commitments has meant that I had to let the Challenge slide. It’s the first time in 3 years I have done so and whilst I would have preferred to be putting up my “O” post today like the rest of you, I am content to be back at “L” and continuing my Challenge journey. I’m looking forward to catching up all around, on the reading on the writing and on the commenting.

All of this is just to prove that I don’t pre-bake my Challenge posts. If I was that perfect I would have written them for the week and programmed them to magically appear. Whilst that’s a great idea, I prefer my posts to reflect what I feel on the day.

What’s a Challenge without a challenge, right?

L Challenge Letter In my K post I commented briefly about being held hostage to another’s fear. This is something that is always a possibility in a relationship. In our strive to love someone and make someone else happy, we can take on their fears.

When my kids were younger and invited their young play mates over to our house, it was always interesting talking to these children because  more often than not, at that age they are a reflection of their parents. A veritable transmitter of their parents’ fears. Now, everyone has the right to raise their kids the way they see fit so this is not about judging anyone’s parenting style. But it wasn’t long before you could see what grown up fears and ideas had been transplanted into these young minds.

The fear of catching a cold or of becoming messy were the real obvious ones. But there were others like fear around certain foods that were not for medical reasons or fears about activities that were perceived dangerous, something like walking on the sand at the beach near the water.  Of course, as the parent of the host child you listen, adjust and respect the visiting parent’s/child’s values.But how many of these kids were missing out because of their parents’ fears? How many of these kids would end up losing themselves because of these fears? And how many of them would transmit these fears across the generations to their own children?

In adult relationships the same thing can happen. Your partner has certain fears. For ease, let’s use dancing. How many of you have stopped dancing because your partner doesn’t like it? You go to weddings and other celebrations and you don’t dance because your partner fears looking like this and getting this reaction:

dancing

 

Dancing is a relatively straight forward fear and probably most of us can get by without dancing if we have to. But what about those more complex fears, the ones that go to your core, your passions, who you are? They can’t be sacrificed so easily without losing your sense of self.

The loss tends to come incrementally until one day the light goes on. So what do you do at that point? Do you keep losing yourself for the sake of the relationship or do you make changes in your own life to reclaim the lost parts of yourself?

The choice is not easy and there are a whole lot of complexities to sort through, particularly if the happiness of the other person is important to you. The bottom line though is that you are just as worthy and your happiness is just as important as that of your partner’s and no-one has the right to force their fears onto you. Acceptance does not mean total conformity and losing your identity. A true equal relationship is about both people being free to be able to be who they are.

Reclaiming who you are is not about being selfish. True selfishness comes from requiring someone else to live by our standards alone.

Dare to be imperfect, dare to be you.

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 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.