The T of Living Imperfectly: Thriving Amongst the Toil #atozchallenge

chair swivel

T Challenge LetterIn my C post I wrote about career change and how, as a perfectionist, I fought the notion that taking a break to change careers was acceptable. Today’s post takes us back to the topic of work. Most of us have to do it and most of us struggle with it.

I remember back about a decade and half ago, I was managing this woman as part of a project. This person was a great worker, diligent, competent and for the most part a real doer. She usually worked back to get the job done and managed to do it all whilst raising two young children. Mostly, every bosses dream. But looking back on it, she was a perfectionist. Like me she toiled first and then played and one day it all got on top of her. She broke down crying to complain that she was always the last out of the office and had missed out on many an office social function because of work she had to do.

As a young and inexperienced manager, I listened to her to cry and calmed her down, but didn’t really understand the issue for no-one had asked her to stay back and miss out on being social. But that is the way she interpreted it.

Being a whole lot wiser and having battled my own perfectionist tendencies I now understand that she was playing into her own self-imposed hard work picstandards or standards that she assumed the work place required. She felt she had to stay back and do the work, because that would make her feel on top of things and in control, in short, closer to perfection.

I have been there too. Sitting in the office at dinner time seething with resentment because I have stayed back to get something done and not understanding how others can merrily march off to socialize when work still remains.

The reality is most of us compete against ourselves. That’s exactly what I was doing but didn’t take into account the cost. Because this sort of behaviour tends to yield success in the conventional sense, I ignored my frustrations and wore my personal sacrifice like a warm cloak.

Another former colleague used to only leave the office to go home to her young family once she had cleared her in tray. Her thinking was that if something came in late in the day and it was small, she could knock it out of the way to concentrate on the bigger things the following day.  “Just this one small thing” she would tell herself. The one small thing generally always took longer than first anticipated and whilst doing the one small thing, a lot of other small things would also find their way into her inbox. After discussing the issue, she finally admitted that there was no real difference if she tackled the small thing in the morning. In short, more self-imposed pressure and sacrifice.

harry potter quoteI have since learned to control my desire to get everything done at work before being able to enjoy my colleagues’ social company. I can also now leave at the end of the day without having ruled a neat little line under my work to signify done. I am no longer being sacrificed at my own altar of perfection.  If a situation calls for a real deadline and I have to stay back then I have no issue with that. But, I have stopped imposing unrealistic deadlines on myself and for punishing myself if I don’t meet them.

And the socializing certainly hasn’t hurt the networking and in fact has made me happier overall and more productive.

I love what I do and am thriving in my toil. The boundaries I have set have helped me realise what’s important and to move away from perfect.

Hard work, doesn’t mean losing yourself. Its means applying constant effort constructively.

 

The S of Living Imperfectly: Stifling the Stickler #atozchallenge

Commands should never be given in a commanding tone. A gentleman requests, lie does not command. We are not to assume so much importance, whatever our station, as to give orders in the “imperative mood,” nor are we ever justified In thrusting the consciousness of servitude on any one. The blunder of commanding sternly is most frequently committed by those who have themselves but just escaped servitude, and we should not exhibit to others a weakness so unbecoming – Martine’s Handbook to Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness, Arthur Martine, Dick & Fitzgerald Publishers, 1866.

S Challenge  Letter The world is made of rules and we are indoctrinated into them at a very young age. We are very young when we first learn the consequences for not obeying a rule and as we grow older we also learn that abiding by rules can earn us praise and positive feelings.

Rules are necessary for society to function. The basic rules have been with us for centuries and were first handed down in the form of tablets. These rules have formed the basis of our criminal law and exist for good reason.

But what happens when you take that little girls from the school playground, the one that was the teacher’s pet and transplant her to adulthood in the middle of an office? The one that still believes that everyone who plays by the rules will be rewarded and praised and that anyone who doesn’t needs to be reminded of the rules.

I was never a teacher’s pet, but I can feel for that girl/woman.

It is a harsh lesson indeed to realise that just because you played fair and by the rules doesn’t necessarily mean you are rewarded. But that is rulesperfectionist thinking in a nutshell – I am virtuous, I am good, I adhered to the rules therefore a certain positive outcome should follow.  Except that discounts human behaviour and the imperfect world in which we operate.

It is equally a difficult lesson for perfectionists to learn the notion that anything less than getting it right is acceptable. You can easily spot that person in conversation, correcting a fact here and a fact there and focusing on accuracy rather than engagement. There are times when correcting a misstated fact is essential to the point that is being made, but there are plenty of other times when the misstatement would have no bearing on the outcome.

It’s time we let getting it right go when it doesn’t really matter. We need to stifle the inner stickler and let other people do it their way. Let the perfectionist go.

There are far better things to put on an epitaph than “he was right”.

 

 

The R of Living Imperfectly: The Rigours of Relationships #atozchallenge

Before you admit the attentions of a gentleman who wishes to pay you his addresses, very carefully examine your respective tastes and dispositions; and settle in your own mind what are the most important requisites of happiness in a married state. With this view, you must enter upon the consideration of the subject with a calm and decisive spirit, which will enable you to see where your true happiness lies, and to pursue it with determined resolution – Martine’s Handbook to Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness, Arthur Martine, Dick & Fitzgerald Publishers, 1866.

R Challenge Letter Welcome to the Information Age where education is freely available to all through Google University and the dating pool now extends to the whole world. Dating sites bring the credentials of potential dates to your keyboard and the forum to interact from the safety of your own home. So why does it seem to be harder than ever before to find a partner?

At least that’s how it appears to me.

I have a confession to make. I have never dated in the Information Age. I met the Italian Stallion almost three decades ago, at an age when the closest we came to a computer was through the Casio calculators in our backpacks. That said, I have listened to the laments of many a woman in their thirties and older as to how hard it is to find a good man.

Let me tell you, men. I’m on your side.

I’m on your side, because I think these women are looking for partner perfection. They probably have a better chance of finding a unicorn.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with standards or having high standards. Neither should a woman have to settle. But the attributes and characteristics of this perfectly baked partner seems a little endless and unrealistic. The perfect candidate seems to be:

  • financially stable,
  • knows where he is going,
  • is a gentlemen and a romantic,
  • dresses well and is well presented,
  • carries no baggage,
  • is intelligent, and
  • tells great jokes and is so confident in his own skin he asks for directions.

OK, I made the last one up, but you get the drift.

As a long time married woman who has been let in on the secret that marriage is not easy, takes work and there will be times when either or friendship perfectionboth of you are less than perfect, this list resembles a whole lot of bucket. As a mother of sons it elicits a yikes!

The reality is you create a life together and settling down with one person is not without risk. The above attributes do not guarantee happiness nor a happily ever after.

Just looking at the list, I can’t help thinking that perhaps the notion of commitment is scarier now. Bad relationship bust up stories abound and tend to drown out the successes and perhaps with more women making their own fortunes the financial stakes are higher. Does the list get longer as women’s feet get colder?

Guys tend to be able to get away with not wanting to commitment. On the other hand perfection for many women is being partnered.

Seeking an understanding and authentic partner should be the goal rather than perfection. A relationship where you are accepted as you is about as perfect as it gets. The rest you work through together.

The Q of Living Imperfectly: The Quagmire of Social Interaction #atozchallenge

Politeness and etiquette form a sort of supplement to the law, which enables society to protect itself against offences which the law cannot touch. For instance, the law cannot punish a man for habitually staring at people in an insolent and annoying manner, but etiquette can banish such an offender from the circles of good society, and fix upon him the brand of vulgarity Martine’s Handbook to Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness, Arthur Martine, Dick & Fitzgerald Publishers, 1866.

Q Challenge LetterSocial interactions have always been a quagmire for me. Lot of rules, very little logic and a whole lot of unnecessary offense. In fact I’m offended by the amount of unnecessary offense there is in this world.

Seriously, this is not what friendship should be about. True friendship is about accepting each other as is and forging ahead on some common ground. Instead we live in a society that makes reality TV shows about the quagmire of social interaction such as the various Housewives Of series. A show where “friends” spent most of their time gossiping about other “friends”, trying to change people and being offended. And there’s a lot of competition, which really has nothing to do with friendship except in the form of friendly rivalry to bring out the best in each other.

Groups and cliques also tend to have their own form of etiquette and rules which one can only work out from within. Only you can decide if you are willing to navigate these and try to adhere to them.

My parents grew up in a group of about twenty couples who hung our socially together. As a kid, it was wonderful to have a big group of “aunties” and “uncles” who were interested in your achievements and who could engage in a little play wrestle. They were great. By the time I was about 8 or 9 I became aware just how much energy my parents were expending in keeping everyone happy in this social circle and all the social balls in the air. It was a whole lot of energy that didn’t always produce peace and harmony.

To me friendship should be easy like a well-worn favourite piece of clothing or comfortable like the best chocolate dessert. That doesn’t mean it true friends is perfect. Good friends should debate and sometimes have a little conflict. That’s what growth is all about and realistically people do change.

I am a long way from achieving perfection in my social interactions. Instead at times, I feel like I’m sinking into quick sand and into the quagmire. And the more I thrash and try, the quicker I sink.

A true friendship does not require a book of etiquette or social laws. And perhaps just when the rule book gets tossed is the time when we realise that our social interaction has moved on from loose acquaintance to real friendship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 N of Living Imperfectly: Nothing More Perfect than a Fruitless Hot Cross Bun #atozchallenge

N Challenge LetterI have just finished my breakfast of chocolate chip infused hot cross buns. A little bit of Easter indulgence to start my Easter Saturday and I’m feeling good.

According to Wikipedia:

A hot cross bun is a spiced sweet bun made with currants or raisins and marked with a cross on the top, traditionally eaten on Good Friday in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada, but now available all year round

The emphasis on currants and raisins is mine.

I love hot cross buns and regularly indulge from about February to April.

But according to my morning newspaper:

When oven-warmed on Good Friday, they should fill homes with the smell of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves (not chocolate, quinoa and soy).

So my home should be filled with the smell of fruits and spices rather than warming chocolate and as should my stomach.

Apparently Sydney, like other parts of the world, is experiencing  a non-traditional hot cross bun revolution. A revolution involving inventive bakers putting their buns out there containing:

  • chili
  • earl grey tea
  • ingredients to tempt the gluten free eaters
  • ingredients to tempt the vegans
  • mocha and chocolate
  • Nutella
  • Vegemite and cheese
  • lemon
  • marshmallow
  • molasses

There are also many other variations. Here is a recipe from Gastronomy.com for green tea and azuki hot cross buns if you want to be really adventurous.

I’m not sure what your relationship has been like with raisins and currents, but we have never even been on a first name basis. Grapes yes, dehydrated grapes, no. Sultanas in pinch, but fruit cake, never!

However, this hasn’t stopped me from seeking out or enjoying great buns.

Good enough to eat!

Good enough to eat!

But now I’m meant to be guilted into feeling my buns are second rate by the traditional nutmeg naggers.

This quest to convert me to current is as fruitless as my hot cross buns though. For I have decided that I am going to enjoy my perfectly imperfect Easter with my masterfully sourced buns.

Do you have any preferred hot cross bun flavours? Do you have a current penchant for currents?

Happy Easter to all my readers.

 

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.